Working Man’s Blues
By Tommy A. Purvis
Speaking up for workers’ rights gets you straight-up fired, warehouse employees say
A September full of direct action and progress for workers’ rights group Warehouse Workers United (WWU) came at a high cost for the outspoken David Garcia.
“I was fired for trying to make the warehouse where I worked safer,” Garcia tells the Weekly. “It’s been tough. My kids need food, school supplies and an apartment to sleep at night, but right now it is difficult to provide them these basic things.”
Garcia—a father of five sons who already struggles to make ends meet when duly employed—was among the dozen on-strike Walmart-subcontracted employees at NFI Industries in Mira Loma who picketed and participated in a 50-mile, six-day march from the Inland Empire to Downtown Los Angeles last month. “WalMarch” brought international awareness to the ongoing plight of warehouse workers caught in a white-collar web that allows the world’s largest corporation to exploit supply chain workers through the questionable—sometimes illegal—practices of logistic firms and temporary staffing agencies.
The emerging leader in the warehouse worker movement was passionate as he spoke to supporters and media before the launch of WalMarch in the WWU parking lot. Garcia told the crowd he understood the risk he is taking for speaking up, but he had determined the decision had to be made for the betterment of his future.
The subsequent action—inspired by the farmworkers movement—was also a catalyst in pressuring Gov. Jerry Brown to sign Assembly Bill 1855. The warehouse worker bill pushed by Assemblywoman Norma Torres (D-Pomona) extends protection found in the construction, farm labor, janitorial and security industries for up to 85,000 warehouse workers in San Bernardino and Riverside counties. Still, workers at NFI Industries reported continued retaliation against their organizing efforts, including terminations, demotions and a drastic reduction in hours.
Operators of distribution centers are concerned the legislation will bring regulation to the Southern California logistics sector that thrives on imported Asian goods headed to Walmart stores spread across the heartland of America from the Port of Long Beach.
Garcia’s descriptions of what he directly experienced leaves little doubt that he was in the crosshairs of NFI Industries executives. Once, the son of one of the company’s owners used an expletive when he told Garcia to remove his yellow-and-blue WWU T-shirt. Garcia says that workers loyal to NFI stole his scan gun and discarded it outside for management to find and write him up. The dock supervisor would select the hardest of the cargo containers with heavy boxes for him to unload.
Then, Garcia says, he was sent home from work on phony charges of insubordination shortly after he returned from WalMarch. A few days later, an executive from NFI Industries corporate office in New Jersey called him at home to let him he was terminated. Furthermore, he was told that if he stepped foot on company property that he would be arrested and have a restraining order filed against him.
“Because workers have spoken out about inhumane working conditions, the warehouse company is now scrambling to rent fans, add water coolers and fix broken equipment,” says Guadalupe Palma, a campaign director with WWU. “While it’s good they have acknowledged [that] workers’ concerns about safety are legitimate, it does not excuse the fact that workers who bravely spoke out are being severely retaliated against,” she adds.
In response to the termination of Garcia, other NFI warehouse workers organized through WWU to plan to wage another temporary work stoppage and picket this week, starting today. The effort is another nuisance for Walmart executives to consider as associates at hundreds of Walmart stores plan to walk off the job early next week through Black Friday in protest of work conditions. The effort is organized through the help of United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW).
The UFCW is both an ally and supporter of WWU and workers’ right group Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) that is fighting for change.
Until that change comes, Garcia told the Weekly that he will rely on his family, friends and the WWU to see things through.