We are on strike at the Walmart distribution center in Elwood, Illinois over unfair labour practices. About 20 of us tried to present a petition to management, signed by many of our coworkers, asking for a living wage, regular working hours, higher standards of health and safety, and above all, RESPECT for the work we do. Even though this is well within our rights as employees, the bosses refused to accept the petition, told us we were all trespassing, and forced us to leave. So we went on strike, which is also a legally protected activity under the National Labor Relations Act. We all got calls later that night telling us we are “suspended pending management review”, so essentially we’re locked out. This is the epitome of an unfair labour practice, and we just filed a charge with the National Labor Board the other day. There are innumerable shitty things about working at Walmart warehouses, but perhaps the worst is that Walmart refuses any accountability for the working conditions in its supply chain by subcontracting out its warehouses to third party logistics companies. The company we work for, Roadlink (affectionately known as Roadstink) is just one of seven or eight temp agencies providing staffing for the warehouse: when there’s a labor dispute in one company, its contract just gets revoked and it’s replaced by another temp agency. This warehouse is right next to one of the largest railyards in the country, central to many interstate highways, and responsible for supplying the majority of Walmart stores in the country. Yet workers here earn poverty level wages: we work for $10 an hour doing hard manual labor, are cheated out of overtime, and shorted on our checks (Warehouse Workers for Justice has filed a bunch of lawsuits against Roadlink for wage theft, they are fuckin notorious). We work in unsafe, unhealthy conditions: the trucks come to the warehouse directly from China, complete with unidentified pesticides, mysterious dusts (otherwise known as China dust), rat feces and bugs. Management forces us to break safety regulations on a daily basis, for example, by lifting boxes labeled ‘team lift’ by ourselves. And then there’s the carts with broken wheels, leaky roofs, and temperatures up to 120 degrees in the trailers. Not only are these jobs unsafe, they’re also highly unstable: most of us are hired as temps, which means they don’t have to give us benefits or overtime, and work schedules are erratic. We’re supposed to work 10 to 12 hour shifts, but often people find themselves working 16, 17 hours, being sent home after only a few hours, getting called off work the night before, or showing up for their shift and being sent straight home. Sexual harassment and assault are also prevalent in the warehouse: WWJ has compiled a report of testimony from women warehouse workers and recently filed a lawsuit against Roadlink because one of the managers has been calling up his female employees late at night.
So far we have been on strike for a week, and now have about 35 people. We’ve been getting a lot of media coverage, and even international solidarity from workers in Chile and South Korea! A few days before us, workers in a California Walmart warehouse walked off the job over illegal retaliation against workers trying to organize, so we’re striking at two major choke points in the supply chain. This week, after the morning picket line, we’ve been doing a series of actions targeting Walmart such as presenting our petition at their corporate offices, invading their stores and making a bunch of noise (with support from the Chicago Teachers’ Union!!!), and interrupting a city planning meeting about a new Walmart store in Chicago. (We actually caused such a ruckus that they shut the meeting down and were unable to vote on the proposal that day). I wanted to let you guys know what we are up to–please spread the word! This fight is very important in setting a precedent for other un-unionized temp labourers to organize and challenge the working conditions in national and international supply chains. You can read more about the warehouse industry in Chicago at the WWJ website, see updates from the strike at WWJ’s facebook, sign our petition to Walmart (over 100,000 signatures so far!!), donate to our strike fund, and read about the California strike at Warehouse Workers’ United website.