Archive for February 2012
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Working In These Times
Warehouse workers from Wal-Mart distribution centers in metropolitan Chicago and southern California took two big steps this week toward enforcing laws on working conditions and wages, fighting retaliatory firings, and ultimately forcing Wal-Mart to live up to its responsibilities as an employer.
Working through Warehouse Workers for Justice, workers at the Elwood, Il, distibution center—reputedly Wal-Mart’s largest with 3 million square feet of space—filed suit against Eclipse Advantage and Schneider Logistics for firing roughly 65 workers on December 29. In November, some of these workers had sued the two companies for violating state and federal wage and hour laws, such as not paying a minimum wage or premium pay for overtime in many cases.
The new amendment to that suit filed on February 1 claims that Schneider and Eclipse as “joint employers” failed to give the required 60-day notice of a mass layoff required by the federal WARN Act.
Although Wal-Mart owns the building, according to WWJ organizer Mark Meinster, Schneider contracts to operate the warehouse and sub-contracts with staffing agencies like Eclipse to provide part of the workforce, and Eclipse or other firms may further subcontract for supply of labor. Beyond trying to maximize its flexibility, “it’s a shell game to avoid responsibility,” Meinster says.
Two Will County warehouse workers have filed a lawsuit against an Elwood warehouse that contracts with Walmart, alleging they did not give adequate notice before laying off 65 workers in December.
In the lawsuit filed in federal court this month, workers Leticia Rodriguez and Terrance Smith are named as plaintiffs in the case against Schneider Logistics and Eclipse Advantage. Schneider operates the warehouse and Eclipse is one of the staffing agencies that provides workers for the facility, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit is one of several that have been filed in the last few years with the support of the Warehouse Workers for Justice.
Rodriguez and Smith allege that the layoffs were in retaliation for a November 2011 lawsuit filed in federal court accusing Eclipse of violating labor laws related to pay. The lawsuit accuses the companies of not providing the adequate 60-day notice required when an employer does a “mass layoff” as required by the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act.
The plaintiffs and other laid-off employees worked at the facility for six months prior to being laid off.
Janet Bonkowski, a spokeswoman for Schneider National, Inc., responded in an email: “Eclipse Advantage, Inc. is a vendor that Schneider Transloading and Distribution, Inc. (SLTD) used to provide container loading and unloading services at the facility SLTD operates in Elwood, Ill. Late last year, Eclipse notified us of its unilateral decision to terminate its contract with us. We convinced Eclipse to stay through the end of 2011. Eclipse is unaffiliated with SLTD and any WARN Act responsibilities are solely that of Eclipse. Given the highly technical requirements of the calculation used for triggering WARN Act notifications, Eclipse may be correct in their conclusion that the WARN Act does not apply in the unique circumstances of this matter.”