Supply Chain Workers Test Strength of Links

Labor Notes
March 29, 2012

By Jane Slaughter

Workers in the nation’s sprawling distribution network hold enormous potential power. They bring $622 billion of goods each year from abroad to retail shelves. A work stoppage in any section of the interlinked network—dock workers, railroad workers, truck drivers, warehouse workers, store workers—could shut off the spigot of goods that keep consumers happy and keep profits churning through the supply chain.

In 2002 a 10-day lockout of West Coast dockworkers left a backlog of 200 ships waiting to be unloaded, causing alarmed big-box retailers to beg President Bush to resolve the dispute.

But most workers in the chain belong to no organization that could channel their energy. Their many occupations are fragmented, separated by ethnic and language differences, citizenship status, directly hired workers and temps, employees and “independent contractors,” union and non-union.

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