Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Unfair Labor Practice Strike at WalMart Warehouse in Elwood

On Saturday September 15, 2012 workers employed by Roadlink Workforce Solutions working at the Schneider-run WalMart warehouse in Elwood presented management a petition asking for a living wage, a safe workplace, regular hours, and permanent jobs.

According to Phillip Bailey, one of the workers who both presented the petition and is named in a lawsuit suing Roadlink for non-payment of wages, after the workers presented the petition, the workers were told they were "no longer welcome in the building."  Later, some of the workers received a phone message stating "they were suspended until pending management review."  Bailey said 5 or 6 people got that message.  

After learning they were "no longer welcome in the building" about 30 workers walked out and went on strike for retaliation which is an unfair labor practice under the National Labor Relations Act.   Workers say they tried to petition management for better conditions, were retaliated against, and are now on an unfair labor practice strike.

Prior to the strike at the WalMart warehouse, Bailey and other workers filed suit against Roadlink Workforce Solutions for wage theft.  Bailey said he and others did not clock in on a time clock, but rather wrote their hours down on a sign-in, sign-out sheet, and the company would "cheat you out of an hour here, an hour there, you really have to watch your pay stub."  Furthermore, Bailey said workers are "required to be there 15 minutes before you start time, but you are not paid for those 15 minutes.  If you were not there 15 minutes before shift, you could get disciplined."

Bailey said some workers would show up at the warehouse for work and then be told by management that there was no work that day.  Bailey states this is against the Illinois Day and Temporary Labor Services Act, which states temporary workers must be paid for four hours if they show up the site and then are told there is no work.

Many of the striking workers are members of Joliet-based Warehouse Workers for Justice, "an independent workers center founded by the United Electrical Workers (UE)."  Warehouse Workers for Justice advocates for an end to the use of temporary workers in warehouses and the  transformation of warehouse jobs from low-wage, temporary jobs to living-wage, family-supporting jobs. Leah Fried, spokesperson for Warehouse Workers for Justice said, "WalMart sets the standard" for people who work in the warehouse industry" and "wage theft is a real problem in this industry."   Fried said Warehouse Workers for Justice is "calling on WalMart to take responsibility" and hold companies that run their warehouses to the standards of their "Standards for Suppliers"  which is posted on WalMart's website.   

Asked about the mood of the workers in the warehouse, Bailey said, ""everyone is extremely demoralized, everyone's about to quit."  Bailey said turnover is massive and most people leave after about 3 months. Bailey said the job consists of  "loading trucks all day with boxes, no one would take this job if they had a choice, you have to be pretty desperate and they count on that." 

Asked whether he thinks other warehouse workers will join the strike, Bailey said, "People working in the WalMart warehouse are people in extremely marginal conditions, they live paycheck to paycheck.  The people want to stand up against the working conditions in the warehouse but there is a lot of fear."  Bailey said raises are unheard of and the health insurance plan "is a joke, you'd be just as good to buy your own policy."  

Asked about the warehouse industry and its use of third-party staffing companies, Bailey said, "they put these warehouse clusters where they can find low-wage labor forces,  People who are in poverty and will never get out of poverty at $10 an hour"  With the current economy, Bailey said there is  "Not much to hang over the employer's head, there are plenty of workers."

While there may not be much to hang over the heads of large companies like WalMart who use third-party staffing companies to hire and manage the workers moving WalMart product, Bailey does point to another way.  Bailey says the Walgreens warehouse in Bolingbrook is union and Bailey hears workers there make $18 an hour, just about the same amount he hears WalMart pays Roadlink to supply workers for its warehouse in Elwood.

Video of the striking workers outside the WalMart warehouse in Elwood, video by Northern Illinois Jobs with Justice:

Warehouse Workers for Justice is holding a rally on the strike line October 1, 2012 at 2 p.m..  Go to the Warehouse Workers for Justice Facebook page for more info.