By Tommy Purvis
The militant workers’ rights group known as Warehouse Workers United (WWU) has directed its latest round of ire into a well-balanced organizing effort against NFI Industries. The national logistics firm that moves cargo holds of Asian imports through the IE from the Port of Long Beach is also known to intimidate outspoken employees. A federally-funded joint survey of 100 warehouse workers by the WWU and the UCLA Center for Labor and Research found the Chino-based Walmart subcontractor to be one of the worst offenders of health and safety violations in the region.
Recently, NFI Industries temporarily fired Santos Castaneda after he spoke out against workplace abuses in front of the massive 2 million-square-foot warehouse complex near Kimball and San Antonio avenues. Surprisingly, an online petition signed by 3,300 people on the advocacy website change.org, and the fact that Castaneda was one of three NFI Industries employees named in Cal/OSHA complaint filed near the end of July appeared to provide enough leverage for him to be rehired by Friday afternoon.
“I was fired moments after speaking out at a rally urging NFI Industries to correct workplace abuses,” says Castaneda, a 24-year-old Salvadoran activist who has worked for the firm for three years.
Castaneda’s Cal/OSHA complainant alleges that NFI Industries fails to provide proper forklift training to warehouse workers, and accuses the firm of exposing workers to dust, fumes, chemical vapors and gases. The filing details a lack of safety equipment to provide protection from materials that can puncture, cut and burn handlers. In the evening and early morning, some workers perform duties in poorly lit or dark areas. management style. Workers also allege that are threatened with firing or calls to immigration authorities for speaking out.
The field survey of IE warehouse workers had respondents who reported injured limbs, back injuries and repetitive stress syndrome from operating machinery. Others complained of chronic headaches and nosebleeds from chemical exposure. There were also reports of extreme temperatures as high as 125 degrees in the workplace.
The movement for warehouse workers rights comes on the heels of a favorable National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that requires employers to post workers’ rights. The ruling is another bitter pill to swallow for the broad coalition of labor groups that supported the President’s last election cycle. Then-Sen. Obama pushed for the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). The legislation would allow workers to form a union based on signed authorization cards to reduce employer intimidation tactics and speed up the collective bargaining process.
Last week, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) warned President Obama that it would not participate in the Democratic convention if a bold jobs program was not presented. The same sentiment was echoed by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters that is part of the Change to Win Federation that supports the WWU.
“I’m speaking out because I want the conditions to improve for workers who come after me,” says Marta Medina, an NFI warehouse worker for 5 years and another complainant on the Cal/OSHA filing. “I’m scared I will lose my job, but I can’t stay silent.”