By Tom Gilroy
Bloomberg BNA OSH Reporter
California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) levied $34,440 in fines against a California warehouse contractor that works extensively for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., citing a dozen violations that included blocked fire exits and unsafe stacking of merchandise, the Warehouse Workers United group announced.
The Cal/OSHA citations, issued Oct. 10, stemmed from a complaint filed in May by 20 workers at the Ontario, Calif., warehouse, owned by Olivet International Inc. It marked the eighth Wal-Mart contracted warehouse found in violation of California and federal laws regarding workers’ health and safety, the group added in a press release.
‘‘Everywhere we look, we find warehouses rife with frightening and unsafe conditions that put employees in peril,’’ Guadalupe Palma, director of Warehouse Workers United, said in the press release. ‘‘As long as retailers like Wal-Mart turn a blind eye to the illegal conditions inside their contracted facilities workers will continue to be hurt on the job,’’ she added.
Wal-Mart spokesman Kory Lundberg told Bloomberg BNA that the warehouse is owned by Olivet International, not Wal-Mart, and ships suitcases through the warehouse not only to Wal-Mart, but to about 30 other retailers as well.
‘‘This factory is owned and operated independently by a company that supplies products to more than 30 retailers. Wal-Mart has very strict standards that we enforce with our suppliers and when we first learned of these allegations we immediately contacted the supplier to discuss the matter,’’ he added in an Oct. 15 e-mail.
Elizabeth Brennan, communications director for Warehouse Workers United, explained that the group singled out Wal-Mart in its press release because some 70 percent of all merchandise moved through the warehouse goes to Wal-Mart.
The Olivet facility has been the focus of worker complaints for some time. In addition to the May complaint to Cal/OSHA, about 30 workers in July staged a two-day strike to protest what Warehouse Workers United termed ‘‘overbearing surveillance, retaliation and unfair labor practices they experienced after they exposed dangerous and unsafe working conditions.’’
Olivet International didn’t return a phone call seeking comment on the charges. The warehouse employs about 200 workers, who aren’t represented by a union , Brennan noted.
In addition to blocked fire exits and merchandise stacked without support, the Cal/OSHA inspectors cited the warehouse for an insufficient number of restrooms, no plan in the event of an injury on the job, no effective training on heat exposure or heat illness, lack of proper foot protection, blocked aisles and insufficient lighting.
The citations also included three violations pertaining to unsafe machinery inside the factory portion of the warehouse, the Warehouse Workers United added.