Strike: Riverside County Warehouse Workers Walk Out

Workers Point to Walmart’s Empty Promises to Improve the Quality of Jobs at Its Contracted Warehouses

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, July 24, 2013
CONTACT: Elizabeth Brennan at 213-999-2164, Elizabeth.Brennan@changetowin.org

ONTARIO, Calif. – Warehouse workers walked off the job this morning to protest the extreme intimidation, spying and retaliation they have experienced since they exposed dangerous and unsafe working conditions at a Walmart-contracted warehouse in Riverside County. (En Espanol)

Thirty warehouse workers—who do not have a recognized union—are prepared to strike for at least two days starting Wednesday, July 24 calling for an end to overbearing surveillance, retaliation and unfair labor practices at a warehouse operated by Olivet International in Mira Loma, California, an unincorporated part of Riverside County.

“We fear that every day we go to work could be our last,” said Heidi Baizabal, who has worked at the warehouse for five years. “We are followed, watched on camera, forced into individual meetings and harassed daily. We need Walmart to see what’s happening inside its contracted warehouse. We move Walmart suitcases and we want safe, good jobs.”

Workers primarily unpack, label and load boxes of suitcases destined for Walmart. Warehouse managers have told workers that Walmart comprises 70 percent of the warehouse’s client base. In May workers filed a detailed complaint with the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) revealing blocked fire exits, inadequate access to water, frequent collapses of towers of boxes and more.

While the state’s investigation is ongoing, warehouse operators have scrambled to fix some of the most egregious problems inside the warehouse, but they have also increased surveillance of workers. Managers have issued new rules aimed to stop workers from discussing health and safety problems, installed dozens of cameras to monitor workers and threatened workers that if they continued to work together they could lose their jobs.

“Warehouse operators have installed 29 cameras, including several over the bathroom entrance, to watch workers every second of the day,” said Guadalupe Palma, director of Warehouse Workers United. “They have hired consultants, which typically costs tens of thousands of dollars a month, to intimidate and frighten workers, follow them around and threaten them individually.  They hold meetings multiple times a day and use the forum to ridicule workers who have raised concerns about working conditions.”

“Improving the quality of warehousing jobs is critical to ameliorating the economic health of this region. As long as major companies like Walmart refuse to address the safety and quality of jobs, the Inland Empire will always lag behind the rest of California,” Palma said.

Warehouse operators have also refused to address workers’ concerns about low pay, inconsistent work schedules and lack of health benefits. According to new research by University of Southern California professor Juan D. De Lara warehouse workers are among the lowest paid in California, particularly women who work in warehouses:

  • The median income for warehouse workers in the logistics industry is $14,500 per year.
  • Temporary warehouse occupations pay an average yearly income of $9,255.
  • Female warehouse workers earn more than $6,000 per year less than male warehouse workers.
  • 28% of all warehouse workers in the logistics industry were employed for less than 27 weeks per year.

“Most of us take on a second job or we sell food or jewelry out of our homes just to make ends meet,” said Cesar Garcia, a warehouse worker. “It’s impossible to survive as a warehouse worker alone. We are fighting for dignity and good jobs so we can support our families and for that we are being targeted.”

The strike comes almost exactly one year after workers at a different Walmart-contracted warehouse exposed illegal and unsafe working conditions. Though Walmart initially denied any problems at the warehouse in nearby Eastvale, California operated by NFI, the megaretailer later backed away from that claim and in December the state of California fined NFI and a staffing agency that employed the workers for numerous health and safety violations.

Over the course of 2012, guestworkers, factory workers and warehouse workers exposed deadly, unsafe and illegal conditions inside Walmart’s contracted facilities. In response to pressure from workers’ groups, Walmart has accepted responsibility for conditions in its supply chain, but the company’s own solutions fail to uphold its basic standards and the law. The National Labor Relations Board is currently investigating federal charges related to worker intimidation and surveillance at Olivet International.

Warehouse Workers United works with warehouse and other workers in Walmart’s global supply chain to improve the quality of life and jobs.

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