Archive for September 2012
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Warehouse Workers for Justice Press Release
September 28, 2012
Hundreds to Show Support for Demands of Striking Warehouse Workers Monday
ON MONDAY, OCTOBER 1st, a caravan of buses from Chicago will join community, faith and labor organizations in Will County to support workers on strike at the Walmart warehouse in a mass mobilization in Elwood, near Joliet. The rally will bring this usually invisible distribution system into the public eye to protest unfair labor practices and other abuses in the nation’s largest inland port. Journalists are welcome to join us on the bus and interview supporters on the way.
WHAT: Mass Rally in Support of Striking Walmart Warehouse Workers
WHEN: Monday, October 1st. Buses leave at 12:00 PM from Workers United, 333 S. Ashland.
WHO: Hundreds of community, labor, and faith supporters representing dozens of grassroots organizations and labor unions. Supporters will be available for interviews as of 11:30 AM at 333 S. Ashland.
WHERE: Chicago: Buses leave at 12:00 PM from Workers United, 333 S. Ashland. Elwood: gathering at the park across from the warehouse entrance on Deer Run just south of Mississippi Ave. The closest address to this point is 300 W. Mississippi, Elwood–the official address of the Walmart distribution center is 26453 Centerpoint Dr. in Elwood. Here
The rally will begin at 2pm in a public park on Deer Run Rd. behind the Walmart warehouse located at 26453 Centerpoint Dr. in Elwood. The crowd will march to the shipping entrance of the massive warehouse and a group of clergy and community leaders plan to block the road preventing goods from coming in or leaving the warehouse. They are prepared to take arrest in support of the strikers demands.
Workers have been on strike at the Walmart warehouse since September 15, 2012. The unfair labor practice strike was triggered by management’s illegal retaliation against workers attempting to present the company their concerns about wage theft, unsafe conditions and discrimination. They are demanding an end to retaliation against workers who speak up about poor conditions.
Warehouse workers labor under extreme temperatures, lifting thousands of boxes that can weigh up to 250lbs each. Workplace injuries are common; workers rarely earn a living wage or have any benefits.
Warehouse Workers for Justice is an Illinois worker center dedicated to fighting for quality jobs in the distribution industry that can sustain families and communities.
The strikers are members of the Warehouse Worker Organizing Committee. See the Oct. 1st Rally event page: http://www.facebook.com/events/134479746698633/
Teachers go on strike in Chicago and Lake Forest. Chicago symphony musicians walk out. Machinists walk picket lines in Joliet, and Wal-Mart warehouse workers stop working in Elwood. Gov. Pat Quinn gets chased from the state fair by angry government workers, and talk of a state workers strike is rumbling.
“There’s something happening here. What it is, ain’t exactly clear,” wrote Stephen Stills in a 1968 song that came to symbolize the 1960s as a decade of social movements and rapid change.
The same words aptly describe labor relations in the United States today. It seems, as 1960s icon Bob Dylan sang in 1964, “the times they are a-changin’.”
In February 2011 we witnessed the Wisconsin workers’ uprising. When Republican Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature passed unprecedented anti-union legislation that also deeply cut social services, hundreds of thousands of people came to the state capital to protest, and several thousand occupied the Capitol for two weeks.
That movement ended with the governor beating a recall effort. Similar legislation in Ohio, though, was overturned when, instead of a recall, organizers turned to a referendum and won 61 percent of the vote in support of workers’ rights.
Then in September 2011 the Occupy Wall Street movement erupted and rapidly spread to hundreds of cities across the country. Tens of thousands of previously uninvolved young people took to the streets — and tents—– to protest the Great Recession and income inequality, and made “1 percent” and “the 99 percent” part of our national discourse. That movement dissipated as winter weather hit and police tore town tent cities.
Things turned quiet again, leading pundits earlier this year to suggest that Wisconsin and Occupy were blips on an otherwise quiet labor relations landscape.
Then the Chicago Teachers Union strike happened. What was most notable was that this was not a typical strike of recent years, where a small number of strikers passively picket a site and the real action is going on at the bargaining table. Instead, the CTU mobilized nearly all of its 26,000 members in daily mass rallies and marches, and drew in large numbers of supporters.
Historical change is often best understood by looking at turning points — key moments when history began to dramatically change. Three citywide labor strikes in 1934 ended a period of relative passivity and heralded the country’s largest and most successful worker uprising. The 1955 Montgomery bus boycott initiated the nation-changing civil rights movement.
So are Wisconsin, Occupy and the CTU strike another turning point that future historians will see as the beginning of a new mass workers’ movement demanding social change?
If I was a betting man, I’d put my money on it. One key ingredient in the making of historical turning points is that people begin to view street protests as normal instead of weird. Instead of viewing a mass march on TV or the occupation of a building as strange and scary, many people watch those same events and think to themselves, “Good for them. That’s what it takes to get anything done in this country. Maybe I’ll join them.”
You could feel that if you picketed or marched with the Chicago teachers — the constant horn honking in solidarity, the waves and smiles of people from building windows or porch stoops, even the nods of approval from police officers.
Another ingredient in the making of historical turning points is the creation of hope. Occupy and Wisconsin inspired hundreds of thousands of people — but neither succeeded in making change. But the Chicago teachers strike was a clear victory for the union.
Teachers nationwide watched this strike closely and drew hope. The success of the seven-day CTU strike will undoubtedly encourage teachers unions across the country to stand their ground and escalate their efforts to defend public education.
And unionists across the country noted that the foundations for the teachers’ victory were laid over the past two years, as the CTU launched a “contract campaign” to educate, organize and mobilize its members. Every school established an organizing committee. Every member was talked to, their concerns discussed, their activism encouraged. In May the union put 6,000 teachers in the streets of downtown Chicago. In June the union overcame a unique anti-CTU law, Senate Bill 7, and turned out 92 percent of its members to nearly unanimously give the leadership strike authorization.
And during the strike, nearly all of the 26,000 teachers participated in enthusiastic, daily marches; picketed daily at schools; and met regularly to discuss strike issues and actions. They were joined by sizable numbers of supporters who came as a result of two years of the union building strong ties with community and parent organizations, and honing the message that the union fought first and foremost to defend a quality public education for every student.
This is the template for successful organizing. This is the soup from which hope emerges.
A strike at Walmart? Two of them. In a time when few union members dare strike, three dozen Southern California workers who move goods for Walmart were desperate enough to walk off their jobs September 12 even without union protection.
Three days later, 30 workers who’d been organizing with Warehouse Workers for Justice in Elwood, Illinois, southwest of Chicago, walked out, too.
Both groups of workers had taken legal action against their employers, contractors who move goods for Walmart, and their strikes were protesting illegal retaliation.
California strikers asked the NLRB to investigate a half dozen unfair labor practices: retaliation against and surveillance of those who’ve been organizing with the energetic Warehouse Workers United (WWU) worker center, an affiliate of the Change to Win federation, for better conditions.
Striker David Garcia said, “For a whole week they were making me lift bicycles all day every day just to see if I would quit or give up.” Wearing a WWU T-shirt could mean being sent home early, Garcia said.
Wal-Mart warehouse distribution workers in southern California and Illinois are on strike, demanding the respect they deserve from the corporate giant.
The walkout by roughly 30 employees in Elwood, Ill., about an hour’s drive southwest of Chicago, came just days after a similar-sized group struck in Mira Loma, Calif.
Although the mega-retailer doesn’t directly employ them, the workers and activists who support them say blame for dismal working conditions, intimidation and harassment falls squarely on the shoulders of Wal-Mart and its drive to cut costs by squeezing workers to the breaking point.
In Illinois, the workers are employed by Wal-Mart contractor Schneider Logistics, which in turn uses a payroll contractor called RoadlinkWorkforce Solutions to run the warehouse. On September 13, according to the group Warehouse Workers for Justice (WWJ)–a project of the United Electrical Workers (UE) union which has lent support to the non-union employees–the workers filed a federal lawsuit against Roadlink for non-payment of wages and overtime, and paying less than the minimum wage.
“I worked for Roadlink Workforce Solutions in the Wal-Mart warehouse,” worker Vincent Hoffmann explained in a press release. “They had us working 10 or more hours a day lifting heavy boxes, but then didn’t pay me the overtime that I had worked so hard for. It’s hard enough trying to make ends meet and then they cheat us out of what we earned.”
Bob “Bobbo” Sphere
The chants rang out across Vincennes Ave in the Chatham neighborhood of South Side Chicago:
“1-2-3-4 No one should be working poor!
5-6-7-8 Come on Walmart, play it straight!
We’re working families
What do we do?
Stand up! Fight back!
There ain’t no power,
Like the power of the people,
Cuz the power of the people won’t stop!”
Striking teachers from the Chicago Teachers Union(CTU) had joined Warehouse Workers for Justice(WWJ) at a rally aimed at Walmart to protest its employee abuses and the dumping of millions of dollars into school privatization efforts. It was the afternoon of Tuesday September 18, only a few hours before the CTU House of Delegates ended the teachers strike. I had come to the rally with a CTU retiree.