UPDATE (9/17/12 at 9:48 a.m.): The headline has been changed to better reflect the story. The strikers are not directly employed by Walmart.
In what has been described as a six-day pilgrimage, warehouse workers across Southern California are marching 50 miles from the Inland Empire to Downtown Los Angeles to protest poor working conditions in Walmart-contracted warehouses.
Elizabeth Brennan, a spokeswoman for Warehouse Workers United (WWU), said the Mira Loma workers are striking over the lack of basic necessities in the warehouses, including the presence of broken equipment, cooling fans, and a lack of drinking water and safety equipment. They are also protesting alleged retaliation for raising these concerns.
“They need to take responsibility,” said Brennan. “They are one of the largest companies in the world, and therefore set the standards for wages and labor practices.”
According to the Huffington Post, warehouses have recently been popping up throughout Riverside and San Bernardino counties, because the area is an entry point for goods manufactured outside of the U.S. destined for local stores.
Many of the strikers are working in warehouses as manual laborers who load and unload the products from delivery trucks, known as lumpers. These workers typically earn minimum wage with no benefits or consistent work schedules.
“When I began working there, I was under the impression that we’d be working there for 90 days,” said Ruben Valadez, a lumper at a warehouse in Riverside. “There are people there that have been working for years, without benefits or vacation time.”
Valadez joined the movement with hopes that the other workers become aware that they do have rights and are protected from retaliation.
“From the first day I wore this (WWU) shirt, I was told to go home early, despite the large amounts of work to be done,” Valadez said. “We’re asked to (load or unload) 250 boxes per hour in our shift, and it must be done within the shift. They do not allow you to work overtime.”
But Walmart spokesman Dan Fogleman said WWU is only bringing Walmart into the spotlight to garner media attention.
“The fact is that we hold all of our service providers and their sub-contractors to the highest standards. We expect and require them to comply with the law. We are aware of the allegations that have been made and are in contact with the service providers to ensure that they are also aware of the concerns,” said Fogleman.
Fogleman said that the complaints are unfounded, and if they are legitimate, that they have already been addressed.
“Based on what we’ve seen and heard from the visits to the facilities, we are confident that the working conditions are acceptable and nothing like what has been described from the union group. We are always looking for ways to improve working conditions,” Fogleman said.
Brennan said that the workers have filed a complaint with California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA), which is conducting an ongoing investigation. Workers have also filed federal lawsuits for other legal violations involving working conditions. Brennan said that they have gone straight to the Walmart offices three times, but are constantly being turned away.
Walmart has expressed that they are not meeting with any of the WWU representatives because the people that are requesting meetings do not represent any of Walmart’s workers.
Fogleman said should instead be focusing their grievances to the temp agencies and warehouses that employ them because,
“That’s where the employment relationship exists,” Fogleman said.
Majority Whip Roger Hernandez, assemblyman for the 57th district, said Walmart bears as much responsibility as anybody.
“We hope to restore dignity and respect for our warehouse workers and all Wal-Mart employees. It is important for Walmart, being one of the largest conglomerates in the world, to follow California law and labor laws,” said Hernandez. “Everyone who lives in Walmart communities expect the workers be treated with respect and dignity, and there are too many occasions where they’re not doing it.”