Archive for October 2012
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CHICAGO – The other shoe – the legal one – has dropped in Wal-Mart’s constant low pay and bad benefits for its workers: 20 temp workers in a Chicago-area store sued in federal court for unpaid wages.
The class action complaint, filed Oct. 22, said Walmart and two staffing agencies, QPS and Labor Ready, required workers show up early for work, stay late, and work through lunch at the world’s largest retailer, all unpaid, among other violations.
Sometimes, workers toiled so long their hourly pay didn’t end up meeting the minimum wage. Other times, they’d be called in but kept on stand by, not getting paid the state-required 4-hour minimum wage. That also deprived them of the chance to seek other work those days.
The suit says the affected workers are among a group of 20-30 temps the two staffing agencies summoned to work at the Walmart store in suburban Crestwood. The law breaking there began three years ago, in October 2009. The suit said their class could include temp workers at other Chicago-area Walmarts.
The workers seek unpaid overtime, pay covering the difference between what they actually got and Illinois’ minimum wage, damages and a court injunction banning Walmart – legally considered a “joint employer” – and the staffing agencies from further state and federal wage and hour labor law-breaking. No trial date has been set yet.
The recent Walmart strikes — beginning first among warehouse workers in California, then spreading to others in Elwood, Illinois, and finally to Walmart retail stores across the United States — raise the possibility that workers may be able to crack the anti-union wall at the country’s largest employer. The new momentum seems likely to spread among many more workplaces to come. But these wildcat strikes are a reminder that, if American workers are to have a better-organized future, they will have to better understand where their corporate opponents are vulnerable.
The Walmart strikes are part of a significant reevaluation of organizing strategy by labor unions and activists in the context of the continuing decline of unionism in the United States — where fewer than 7 percent of workers in the private sector belong to a union. As Nadine Bloch pointed out two weeks ago, such wildcat strikes on multiple levels of the supply chain at Walmart are unprecedented, and groups like OUR Walmart and Warehouse Workers for Justice are planning to escalate the campaign in the coming weeks.
Over the past three decades, there has been a tremendous shift in the work lives of almost everyone in the United States wrought by processes of globalization. With the deregulation of trade in favor of multinational corporations (exemplified in trade deals such as NAFTA), and the emergence of hyper-specialization, most major commodities are now produced with components manufactured all over the world, selected through a competitive bidding process that aims to extract the maximum profit.
By: Jake Olzen
The nation’s largest retailer — Walmart — is in the throes of a bold movement for worker justice. The company has faced a number of separate strikes in less than a month and, rather than its typical retaliatory response of firing workers, Walmart is backing down and conceding to some demands.
Workers raised the stakes last week when more than 200 striking workers showed up at Walmart’s global headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, as executives met for its annual financial analyst meeting on October 10. The retail associates — from 28 Walmart stores in 12 states, according to Democracy Now! — walked off their jobs the day before as labor organizers began running ads in Arkansas newspapers supporting Walmart workers.
A Walmart memo leaked to Huffington Post over the weekend confirms the seriousness with which the company is viewing the strikes, revealing how powerful organized labor can be when it taps into strong community support, utilizes social networks, and engages in direct action.
Also joining Walmart’s striking retail workers in this historic struggle were Walmart’s warehouse workers from Illinois and California whose successful strike for better conditions and wages started a nationwide wave, putting visible pressure for change on how Walmart treats its workers.
New details emerged Thursday about the living conditions endured by workers at a Walmart support warehouse in Elwood, Ill. who went on strike last month to protest their poor working conditions and alleged retaliation by management.
In a new piece by The Guardian, warehouse worker Phillip Bailey explains how he sleeps in a Catholic hostel in Joliet, Ill., after a long day of loading and unloading hundreds of boxes bound for Walmart stores.
Another worker, Mike Compton, says he regularly sleeps in foreclosed homes, explaining, “I found one abandoned house that had working electricity still. And a fridge.”
A third warehouse worker, Bailey said, was forced to live in the woods. “He just set up a tent in there for a few weeks.” Temperatures in Northern Illinois during the winter average 22 degrees Farenheidt, making situations like these potentially deadly.
The dire conditions in which the workers live are compounded by the fact that their jobs working for the logistics company Roadlink Workforce Solutions, moving goods on their way to Walmarts nationwide, are physically taxing, perpetually part-time, and often pay near minimum wage. Compton told the Guardian that if he were to work every single week of the year, he might expect to make about $15,000. “It is not easy to get by,” he added.
The great recession of 2008, this global economic meltdown, has wiped out the life savings of so many people and created a looming threat of chronic unemployment for millions. This is happening while corporate coffers are brimming with historically high levels of cash on hand, in both the “too big to fail” banks and in nonfinancial corporations. Despite unemployment levels that remain high, and the anxiety caused by people living paycheck to paycheck, many workers in the United States are taking matters into their own hands, demanding better working conditions and better pay. These are the workers who are left unmentioned in the presidential debates, who remain uninvited into the corporate news networks’ gilded studios. These are the workers at Wal-Mart, the largest private employer in the United States. These are the tomato pickers from Florida. With scant resources, armed with their courage and the knowledge that they deserve better, they are organizing and getting results.
This week, Wal-Mart workers launched the first strike against the giant retailer in its 50-year history, with protests and picket lines at 28 stores across 12 states. Many of these nonunion workers are facing retaliation from their employer, despite the protections that exist on paper through the National Labor Relations Board. The strikers are operating under the banner of OUR Walmart: Organization United for Respect at Wal-Mart, started with support from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. OUR Walmart members protested outside Wal-Mart’s “Meeting for the Investment Community 2012” in Bentonville, Ark. Demanding a stop to the company’s retaliations, the group promised a vigorous national presence at Wal-Mart stores on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and the largest retail shopping day of the year. The workers have an impressive array of allies ready to join them, including the National Organization for Women.