By Tommy A. Purvis
An eye-opening report from the National Employment Law Project (NELP) is the latest proof of Walmart’s far-reaching, negative impact on the local economy through the alleged systematic abuse of Latino warehouse workers. The national, New York City-based worker advocacy organization released “Chain of Greed: How Walmart’s Domestic Outsourcing Produces Everyday Low Wages and Poor Working Conditions for Warehouse Workers” last week at a press conference at the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor building near MacArthur Park. The exposé highlights the Sam Walton business model built on the practice of domestic outsourcing.
The well-known practice of subcontracting services and liability through a “multi-layered hydra-like” chain of fly-by-night operations that grossly violate workers’ rights for a substantial profit is apparently textbook for the yellow smiley-face corporation. Worse, other industries with the most potential for growth on the horizon—like construction and building services, janitorial, home health care, trucking, meat processing, high-tech, retail and, of course, warehousing—will be forced to take part in domestic outsourcing to compete for contracts.
“In order to continue to win business, subcontractors must model their businesses like Walmart,” says Maria Elena Durazo, secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. “That means consistently lowering standards, lowering wages and cutting corners even if it means dangerous working conditions. Workers bear the brunt of this unsustainable model.”
Labor law violations at five IE logistic firms—Schneider Logistics, Inc.; Schneider Logistics Transloading and Distribution, Inc.; Premier Warehousing Ventures, LLC; Rogers-Premier Unloading Services, LLC; and Impact Logistics, Inc.—have already led to three preliminary injunctions issued by U.S. District Court Judge Christina A. Snyder since October. The injunction were intended to prevent the retaliation against and termination of outspoken employees.
It is these employees—mostly invisible workers—that leave metaphorical and literal fingerprints on each and every box that comes from the neverending trailer loads of Asian consumer goods from the Port of Long Beach for Walmart stores across the nation. The logistic sector quickly replaced hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs lost after the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the mid ’90s. The temporary staffing agencies that grew with the sector supply the workforce for warehouse megalopolises ripe with rampant violations that used to be found in the agricultural fields.
Warehouse Workers United (WWU), a militant workers’ rights group, started a campaign to organize the workers three summers ago. Back then, Arturo Rodriguez, the president of the United Farm Workers of America told WWU supporters—before an act of civil disobedience that temporarily shut down traffic in the heart of the warehouse district—that if Cesar Chavez was alive today, he would be organizing warehouse workers.
The NELP report found that in 2.4 minutes the Walton family makes in dividends what a warehouse worker makes in a year.
Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, says the NELP report is proof that Walmart and its subcontractors treat Latinos like beasts of burden instead of human beings. In the past Salas says that warehouse workers have worked 16-hour days for up to 362 days of labor in a year for slave wages. She compared the plight of Latino warehouse workers in the IE to the struggle European immigrants faced during the early 20th century in Chicago in Upton Sinclair’s classic novel The Jungle.
“Latinos and immigrants in this industry are facing extreme low wages and little regard for basic workplace safety standards,” Salas says. “We see domestic outsourcing in many sectors, like agricultural, janitorial and cleaning where people do hard work largely out of sight. Shedding light on poor labor conditions will lead to better, more humane lives for a huge part of our population.”
The NELP report concludes that a better enforcement of existing laws and Cal/OSHA workplace safety standards is desperately needed. It also recommends adding the warehouse industry to laws that currently protect workers in other subcontracted industries, such agricultural and janitorial.
Above all, it calls for Walmart to adopt a meaningful and responsible contractor policy to bring to an end to the on going struggle of warehouse workers.