Sunday, September 12, 2010

Warehouse Work in Will County

The group Warehouse Workers for Justice recently held a press conference in downtown Joliet where they released the results of a survey they conducted of warehouse workers in Will County.

The group used the following methods to conduct the survey:
"The vast majority of the surveys–84%–were conducted outside of grocery stores, malls, gas stations, libraries, community centers, and check cashing stores in Joliet, Romeoville, and Bolingbrook, IL. The locations were identified  as places where workers were known to be found, based on the knowledge of warehouse workers.  Interviewers in these locations asked each person who passed the whether they worked in a warehouse, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or age.  The remainder of surveys were gathered using social networks of workers.  This combination of sampling techniques is appropriate when faced with a situation in which it  is not feasible or possible to construct a population.
In total, 392 workers were surveyed;  however, this report focuses on warehouses in Will County.  The final sample of 319 workers reflects the number of workers who were working, or had recently worked, at warehouses in Will County.  Over 150 different warehouses are represented by this data set.  Because of this large sample of warehouses, we believe this data represents a substantial piece of the industry in Will County.3 "

The Joliet Herald News published an editorial on September 5, 2010 entitled "Little to stop warehouse abuse."     The editorial asks the question: " Is this what local economic development officials envisioned 10 years ago when roads were rebuilt to accommodate the thousands of trucks and millions of shipments rolling through?
Our roads are clogged, crumbling and much more dangerous. In return, the job creation panacea has been tainted by companies who apparently see this county as a storage shell, with little concern for the workers, whom they choose to exploit."

In response to the Herald editorial, John Greuling, president/CEO of the Will County Center for Economic Development, wrote a letter to the editor that was published September 10, 2010:

From the Joliet Herald News website, Greuling's letter to the editor was published Sept. 10, 2010:

"No abuse of warehouse workers
Your Sept. 5 editorial "Little to Stop Warehouse Abuse" questions the veracity of The Herald-News as a fair and balanced community newspaper. The editorial implies that there is widespread abuse of warehouse workers in Will County and that our community leaders from business and government have fallen down on the job in protecting workers rights in the county. This is based on a study completed by a Chicago labor organization -- the Warehouse Workers for Justice (WWJ).

The logistics industry is a growing and important segment of our local economy. Of the 250,054 jobs based in Will County, 20,285, or 8.1 percent, work in warehouses. The average wage for these jobs in Will County is $14.17 an hour or $29,400 a year.

The WWJ study is based on interviews with 319 warehouse workers conducted by WWJ staff. Surveys were conducted outside of grocery and check cashing stores. This random surveying of less than 1.5 percent of all warehouse workers in the county raises questions about the study's findings.
The study claims that a segment of the distribution center's workforce receives entry-level wages for lower-skilled positions, and 60 percent are from staffing agencies.

Why is this bad? Warehouse jobs have few barriers to entry. This industry offers employment opportunities to that segment of the population with the fewest options for earning a living wage.
There is no question that the use of temporary workers provides some challenges. But calling business leaders "tin men" with no hearts and encouraging a letter writing campaign to businesses to "change the way they do business" is no answer.

Your newspaper should be encouraging an open dialogue among all of the stakeholders. This has already been initiated by the Will County Center for Economic Development. I invite The Herald-News to be part of that dialogue.

John Greuling, president/CEO
Will County Center
for Economic Development" contacted Greuling and asked if the data he quoted in his letter was publicly available.  Greuling responded and provided links to Will County Workforce Investment Board's Will County Economic Update, 2nd Quarter, 2010, from which the data quoted in his letter is drawn.  Warehouse Workers--from floor movers to forklift drivers-- fall under the transportation and material movers category in the report.

The Will County Center for Economic Development is also hosting the 4th Will County Global Logistics Summit on September 21st at the Bolingbrook Golf Club, where a workforce panel is on the agenda.

With over 20,000 people working in the warehouse industry in Will County and many warehouses now dotting the Will County landscape, it is important that everyone educate himself or herself on this important issue.