Sheep’s Clothing?

By Tommy A. Purvis

Posted March 8, 2012 in News

eap day brought far more this year than an extra day to protest the alleged out-of-control abuse of warehouse workers caught up in the exploitation of the Walmart supply chain at the mega contractor Schneider Logistics in Mira Loma. A protest and other forms of mostly civil disobedience at the warehouse under the influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—a conservative think tank that pairs state legislators with influential lobbyists—also shone light on a highly suspicious press duo from a questionable news service sent to cover the Occupy protest.

The Facebook-based Inland News Service (INS) “reporters” drove similar Nissan Altima sedans with limo-black window tint and similar sequential license plates. The men—who came off more special agent than journalism-school beat reporter—took several perimeter photos and film of participants, and at least one bona fide member of the media. At no point during the nearly six-hour standoff between law enforcement and protestors in the sprawling warehouse district near Interstate 15/60 Freeway interchange did the pair walk or drive to the other side of police skirmish lines.

For several frantic weeks a coalition of Occupy organizers in 70 cities across the nation made plans to shut down corporations that push anti-worker legislation—among other grievances—through ALEC collaboration. Locally, Occupy Riverside coordinated the action at Schneider Logistics. Schneider Logistics allegedly shields Walmart from accusations that warehouse workers are mistreated and exploited through a scheme that uses two temporary staffing agencies—Impact Logistics and Premier Warehousing—to suppress wages and blunt union organizing efforts.

A class action lawsuit filed on behalf of the workers through the militant worker rights’ organization Warehouse Workers United (WWU) estimates that Schneider Logistics owes employees in excess of $10 million for back pay. Experts figure the workers are paid half the California minimum wage. An open letter from Schneider Logistics warehouse workers to the Occupy Movement found solidarity in the beleaguered workers’ struggle for economic justice. In fact, the WWU first brought Occupy-style tactics to the IE three summers ago in the launch of a widespread grassroots community organizing campaign.

“Our struggle for economic and social justice is being noticed on a national level, which will force Walmart and its contractors to answer to the entire nation instead of just their workers,” letter signer Manual Gonzales said after the Feb. 29 action.

A single police cruiser with a male deputy was active in the area early in the morning as nearly 300 protestors met at sunrise. The peaceful assembly was quick to take the intersection at Hamner Avenue and march in the northbound lanes to temporarily block traffic to loud chants of “Whose Street? Our Streets!” A silver and maroon Nissan Altima made a path past the short term gridlock on the wrong side of the semi-truck thoroughfare that police were already in the process of blocking out of sight up the street. The vehicles then got back in the proper lanes, far in front of the march for the first of several stops to shoot and retreat hasty photos of marchers, faces obscured by bandanas.

The tag-team “reporters” were in position on the southwest corner of Hamner and Riverside avenue before the initial wave of marchers with a large banner that read “ALEC: Trojan horse of the 1%.”

The “reporters” parked their cars in a textbook, police tactical observation style to capture even more photos and film. “Joe Benz” from INS wore a photographer’s press pass that had expired December 2010. His colleague, who identified himself as a freelancer, wore a credential that I was unable to read. He took film of me from a distance. Neither man responded when I made an issue over their tactics and legitimacy as credentialed members of the media.

I was told by several deputies there was not a safe space for media to document the protest without risking arrest. But the silver and maroon sedans were behind police lines in an area swept clear of protestors and any remaining media that might have been in the area, other than me, another journalist without a camera and occupiers filming and streaming live to the Web.

A few days later when I talk with  Riverside County Sheriff Department Public Information Officer Joseph Borja on the second floor of the administration building he is short on answers for the “reporters” that seemingly have clout with his force. He cannot identify the photos of the vehicles, the men who drove them or give reasons for their special treatment. In fact, he tells me that our meeting never took place. He then pushes the button for the elevator and instructs me to go.


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