By Cindy Wojdyla Cain firstname.lastname@example.org October 1, 2012 5:04PM
Updated: October 2, 2012 2:27AM
ELWOOD — Police dressed in riot gear arrested 17 peaceful protesters Monday as they sat in the middle of Centerpoint Drive blocking the Walmart warehouse entrance.
The group, which was surrounded by hundreds of fellow protesters, sang “We Shall Overcome” as they were handcuffed and walked to a police transport unit.
The sit-in was part of a rally to support striking warehouse workers who walked off the job Sept. 15 to protest unfair labor practices at the massive warehouse. About 38 workers who joined the strike are picketing the warehouse every morning.
The rally organized by Warehouse Workers for Justice (WWJ) drew an estimated 600 people — including many from unions, community organizations and faith-based groups in Chicago — to the Elwood site. They gathered in a park on Deer Run and walked, sang and chanted along Mississippi Avenue on their way to the warehouse’s shipping entrance on Centerpoint Drive.
Once there, squad cars from the Will County sheriff’s police and Elwood police flanked the group to the north and south and about 25 riot police from a Mobile Field Force Team gathered on the other side of the fence in the Walmart warehouse parking lot.
The police team, which one onlooker said resembled a paramilitary group, used a bullhorn to ask the group to disperse or risk arrest and “chemical or less lethal munitions being deployed.”
Elwood police Chief Fred Hayes said he asked for the team’s assistance to make sure the protest didn’t escalate.
“Police officers always have to prepare for the worst thing that could possibly happen,” he said.
Among those arrested were Will County Board member Jackie Traynere, the Rev. Craig Purchase of Mount Zion Tabernacle Church in Joliet, the Rev. Raymond Lescher of Sacred Heart Church in Joliet and Charlotte Droogan, lay minister at Universalist Unitarian Church of Joliet.
Each arrested protester would be cited for obstructing a roadway, Hayes said.
“It’s very similar to receiving a speeding ticket,” he said.
The protest was an escalation of three years of work by WWJ to improve conditions for warehouse workers in Will County, which with its two intermodals has become the largest inland port in North America in recent years.
The group has helped workers file 11 lawsuits against the companies that own, manage or staff warehouses. Six of the lawsuits are against companies hired by Walmart to run its warehouse. By the end of the year, several of the lawsuits will settle for about $1 million in back pay, said Leah Fried, a WWJ spokeswoman.
Walmart has been targeted more and more in recent months by the group because “They are the worst of the worst,” said WWJ community organizer Cindy Marble.
Workers complain that they’re paid “poverty wages,” they aren’t paid overtime, they’re kept as temporary workers for years, they face sexual harassment and racial discrimination and they have to work in extreme heat and cold.
Mike Compton, one of the striking warehouse workers who walked off the job, said after working at the warehouse for three months, he was a veteran worker because the turnover is so high. He said everyone quits because “They call us bodies and that’s what we feel like.”
Fellow striker Curtis Tucker said because he’s a big guy, bosses expected him to unload trailers that were marked “team lift” by himself.
Walmart officials deny the accusations and they say it is WWJ, which was founded with help from the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers, that is treating warehouse workers poorly.
“This isn’t really about Walmart at all,” said company spokesman Dan Fogleman. “... The union is focused on fulfilling its own agenda.”
WWJ is a “union-funded, union-backed” organization that wants more union members who pay dues that can be used by union bosses on their political agenda, Fogleman said.
“In the end, their efforts don’t reflect a genuine concern for the needs of the workers they are putting in the public spotlight,” he said.
WWJ’s Fried disputed Fogleman’s claim. She said WWJ is 95 percent funded by foundations and donations. The union is supporting the group, but so are many others, she said.
“It’s so incredible that his response for people not getting paid for heavy, difficult labor is to say it’s just a union-backed thing,” she said. “They feel it’s somehow OK for this to go on in their warehouses.”
During the rally, union officials were open about their hopes of organizing the warehouse workers, but they said it was to improve working conditions.
“We stand behind you,” said Bob Kingsley a union director.
Walmart manages and staffs more than 100 of its warehouses around the country, but it farms out management at about 25 larger regional distribution centers such as the one in Elwood, Fogleman said.
Walmart hired Schneider National Inc. to manage its warehouse in Elwood; Schneider hired Roadlink Workforce Solutions to staff the warehouse. On Sept. 13, two days before the strike began, workers filed a federal lawsuit charging Roadlink with wage theft and other labor infractions.
Schneider officials said they expect third-party vendors to comply with all laws. Roadlink officials had no comment on the lawsuit or Monday’s rally.
Walmart’s Fogleman said company executives toured the Elwood warehouse in September.
“We believe the issues that have been raised were either unfounded, or, if legitimate have been addressed,” he said.
The company is reviewing its contracts with third-party logistics companies to make sure they abide by all health and safety regulations, he said.
WWJ and its supporters aren't convinced. As the last protesters were led away by police at about 4:15 p.m., more than two hours after the rally started, the group chanted, “We’ll be back, we’ll be back.”
This LRAD cannon was allegedly on site at the time
So wal-mart allegedly stole from these workers and treated them like crap. The workers get arrested for protesting and wal-mart denies what they claim lol
I'm not sure what to think of this, but this whole situation violates their rights immensely.
Walmart Warehouse Strikers Return to Work with Full Back Pay
| October 9, 2012
Illinois warehouse workers at the heart of Walmart's supply chain won their strike this week and returned to work with safer conditions and full back pay. Their strike was one of many small walkouts around the country at both warehouses and retail stores. Photo: People's World.
Strikers have returned to work with their heads held high and their wallets full at Walmart’s largest North American distribution center. Warehouse workers in Elwood, Illinois, announced Saturday that they had won their key demand, reinstatement of all who were fired or suspended for on-the-job organizing, along with full back pay for everyone who participated in the three-week strike.
“I think there’s been a hit in Walmart’s armor,” said Phil Bailey, one of the strikers who marched triumphantly back into the warehouse in matching Warehouse Workers for Justice t-shirts. “There’s been this expectation that they can’t be damaged at all. Not true!”
The returning workers also saw immediate improvements in safety conditions in the warehouse. They finally received shin guards, which they have been requesting for some time to protect them from heavy carts, and giant ceiling fans were installed to help cool the warehouse, which can reach 120 degrees. “[Management] kept coming around asking us if we needed any additional safety equipment,” Bailey reported. “They’re a lot more polite.”
The average check for three weeks of back pay was around $900, said WWJ organizer Leah Fried. Even co-workers who had not struck, Bailey said, were proud and inspired—and envious of the back pay. Some told him they now wished they had gone out too.
“It’s unprecedented. This shows you don’t have to go through a card drive and recognition and negotiate a contract before you can take action,” said Bailey. “Workers in one subcontractor shut the whole place down.”
Clogging Walmart’s Arteries
The week before the victory, workers and their allies had built pressure on the company by rallying 600 people for a rally that included civil disobedience and arrests and by delivering a support petition with more than 100,000 signatures. Management shut down the warehouse for a day.
Fried credited the victory to the financial impact of the shutdown, along with the big community mobilization and the strikers’ pending legal case with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
The huge distribution center in Elwood receives 70 percent of Walmart’s imports and feeds smaller distribution centers around the Midwest and Canada to stock the shelves of Walmart stores. Trucks reportedly left the warehouse half-empty that day, contrary to regular company policy that they be packed tightly, “without any air.” Bailey estimated the one-day shutdown cost the company $10 to $12 million.
“This place is very strategic,” he said. “It’s at the heart of Walmart. You clog it up, you can give Walmart a heart attack.”
The remarkable victory by 38 strikers against one of the world’s biggest corporations is “significant for temp workers everywhere,” Fried said. The Elwood workers are employed by temp agency RoadLink, one of multiple staffing agencies contracted by Schneider Logistics, which in turn is contracted by Walmart to manage its warehouse. The multi-layered corporate structure is designed to insulate Walmart from responsibility and keep workers in a vulnerable and unstable situation.
Despite the risks, the past few weeks have seen an upsurge in labor actions under the umbrella of Walmart, the retail giant often considered U.S. labor’s most powerful foe. The Illinois victory came on the heels of a two-week strike at a Walmart warehouse in Southern California and a one-day strike by retail workers at multiple Walmart stores in the same region.
Today, OUR Walmart announced additional walkouts by Walmart retail workers in the Dallas, Seattle, Miami, Washington, D.C., Sacramento, and San Francisco areas.
A joint delegation of warehouse and retail workers and their allies will travel to Bentonville, Arkansas, tomorrow to protest at Walmart’s annual meeting for financial analysts. The workers will demand an end to retaliation throughout the Walmart system.
Organizing Without a Union
None of the workers involved in any of these job actions has a recognized union, though all are organizing through union-affiliated worker centers or organizations: Warehouse Workers for Justice (affiliated with the United Electrical Workers, UE) in Illinois, Warehouse Workers United (affiliated with Change to Win) in California, and OUR Walmart(connected with the Food and Commercial Workers) for the retail workers. The Illinois workers belong to the Warehouse Workers Organizing Committee.
“It’s a long-haul strategy around a worker center,” said Bailey. “Hopefully this model will spread.”
Labor law protects non-union workers’ right to band together to better their working conditions, and even to strike over unfair labor practices, like the retaliation the Illinois workers experienced for protesting conditions on the job. The NLRB is gathering testimony on the workers’ charges that RoadLink fired, suspended, and refused to hire workers in retaliation for union activity. Although the company has already reinstated and repaid them, Fried said that if the board finds merit in the charges, possible additional remedies might include further back pay, postings advising workers of their rights, or changes to company policies.
Buoyed by their victory, workers in the Illinois warehouse plan to reach out to more co-workers and continue to organize for fair pay for all hours worked, safe conditions, and an end to discrimination and harassment on the job. “We have a long way to go here,” said Fried.
But the workers have more tricks up their sleeves for Walmart, too. “They don’t even want to know the things we were planning to do to them if this didn’t work,” Bailey said. “They’re lucky they settled so soon.”
Interesting story and resolution. Maybe this world isn`t so bad after all haha
Edited by Tystick, 09 October 2012 - 04:26 PM.