Warehouse workers walked off the job this morning to protest the extreme intimidation, spying and retaliation they have experienced since they exposed dangerous and unsafe working conditions at a Walmart-contracted warehouse in Riverside County, California.
Thirty warehouse workers—who do not have a recognized union—are prepared for what could be at least a 2 day strike that started today. Like Walmart store workers, warehouse workers have been facing attempts to silence them and strip them of their fundamental right to come together and speak out for change.
“We fear that every day we go to work could be our last,” said Heidi Baizabal, a striking warehouse worker who has worked at the warehouse for five years. “We are followed, watched on camera, forced into individual meetings and harassed daily. We need Walmart to see what’s happening inside its contracted warehouse.”
Workers primarily unpack, label and load boxes of suitcases destined for Walmart. Warehouse managers have told workers that Walmart comprises 70 percent of the warehouse’s client base. In May workers filed a detailed complaint with the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) revealing blocked fire exits, inadequate access to water, frequent collapses of towers of boxes and more.
While the state’s investigation is ongoing, warehouse operators have scrambled to fix some of the most egregious problems inside the warehouse. They have also increased surveillance of workers by installing 29 cameras, including several over the bathroom entrance, to watch workers every second of the day. They have also hired consultants, which typically costs tens of thousands of dollars a month. Workers report that the consultants intimidate and frighten workers, following them around and threatening them individually. Additionally, workers state that management holds meetings multiple times a day and use the forum to ridicule workers who have raised concerns about working conditions.
Warehouse operators have also refused to address workers’ concerns about low pay, inconsistent work schedules and lack of health benefits. According to new research by University of Southern California, warehouse workers are among the lowest paid in California, particularly women who work in warehouses. The research found that the median income for warehouse workers in the logistics industry is $14,500 per year, while female warehouse workers earn $6,000 per year less than male warehouse workers.
The strike comes almost exactly one year after workers at a different Walmart-contracted warehouse exposed illegal and unsafe working conditions.
The National Labor Relations Board is currently investigating federal charges related to worker intimidation and surveillance. You can read more at Warehouse Workers United.