By Tommy Purvis
Lawyers for the workers’ rights group Warehouse Workers United (WWU) now have a catalog of violations against an employer in their back pocket longer than a Christmas list for the child of a one-percenter. The shockingly bad treatment of the mostly invisible warehouse work force that unloads cargo containers from Asia has been the focus of the organizing efforts of the emerging union over the past few years. And last week, when the state Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) led a raid at Schneider Logistics in Mira Loma, they found enough executive malfeasance for officials to unwrap the exploitation for all to see.
Inspectors found that more than 200 workers—who already earn slave wages for back breaking work in unsafe conditions—were subjected to even more harassment this time of year in order to supply the nation with gifts as the up coming holiday season nears. It should be of no surprise that the transportation and warehousing firm and others in the network—Premier Warehousing Ventures, Rogers-Premier Unloading Services, Impact Logistics—solely move product for Walmart.
The raid and the paper trail of infractions that led the DLSE to issue a $499,000 fine on the spot also suddenly legitimizes a class action lawsuit. Janet Herold, who serves as Special Counsel to Change to Win—a coalition of four member unions that has been investing in the future of IE warehouse workers through an aggressive community organizing effort—is taken aback by the illegal, inadequate pay. She says on some levels the warehouse work is more exploitative than the work done in agriculture fields or garment districts. In those instances, she says, at least the workers can calculate how much they are going to be paid for each barrel of fruit picked or collar stitch sewn.
In the warehouse white-collar conspiracy the workers seem to be under, a group piece rate for tonnage moved on extremely long shifts in stuffy cargo containers. Of course, it works out so Schneider employees like Juan Chavez and Everardo Carrillo—who often will work 14-hour days in a 7 day work week—receive far less than minimum wage for their unappreciated effort. The inspectors were not even able to find mandatory payroll records, but did discover falsified records of hours worked. The scheme left many experts in the game to wonder how reimbursement was even determined. The employees are not even given a wage statement with their grossly offensive and meager checks.
Lawyers in this case feel the back pay owed to the workers in the warehouse alone exceeds $10 million.
“The raid at Schneider is important because it occurred at one of the largest distribution facilities in the world, operated for the biggest corporation in the world, Walmart,” says Warehouse Workers United Deputy Director Palma Guadalupe. “We believe this action will benefit hundreds of workers who work in terrible conditions and are regularly deprived of their extremely hard-earned wages. This raid will force the entire logistics industry to take notice.”
The workers that were forced to feed their families out of garbage cans when the brunt of the economic downturn dropped the bottom on consumer spending could use some relief. The communities they live and work in are increasingly encroached upon by behemoth warehouse developments and law enforcement that takes racial profiling to sophisticated new levels.
Last month alone the Fontana Police Department taxed the workers unfairly with multiple driver license checkpoints to increase revenue for the cities dwindling coffers. And during one recent weekend traffic was blocked twice in brown skinned neighborhoods in the core of the city. The first time was the night of the Ortiz-Mayweather fight, and again a few days later when the Broncos-Raiders started the season on Monday Night Football.
The police used the parking lot of the WWU as a staging location for vehicles and tow trucks in the second road block that allows their officers to go on fishing expeditions for undocumented workers.