Lots of Baggage
By Tommy A. Purvis
A fire alarm is again being pulled early by formidable workers’ rights group Warehouse Workers United (WWU) to warn state authorities and the public about the possibility of another entirely preventable tragedy in the Walmart supply chain.
This time around WWU alleges it has found a series of serious violations at Olivet International in Mira Loma that were reported to California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA). Workers report poor lighting, forklifts with faulty brakes and leaky propane hoses and three-story towers of boxes that often topple in aisles.
“It’s hard to imagine worse conditions inside of a domestic warehouse,” Guadalupe Palma, WWU’s director told the Weekly. “Workers are exposed to incredibly dangerous working conditions. Workers report blocked fire exits in the warehouse; a situation all the more troubling in light of the recent Bangladeshi garment workers tragedy.”
A building collapse at the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh was responsible for the deaths of nearly 1,300 workers in a seven-story tall garment sweatshop in April. A fire in a nearby garment district last November was responsible for the deaths of 112 people. In both circumstances, Walmart denied sourcing from the manufacturers . . . until evidence from the rubble proved otherwise.
Olivet International employee Miriam Garcia told the Weekly that they often seen Walmart’s name on boxes and paperwork.
“It is unsafe inside the warehouse,” Garcia tells the Weekly. “We are treated like animals and are often yelled at and told to work faster. It is dangerous inside the warehouse. High stacks of boxes often fall and some of the forklifts don’t have working brakes. We are often blocked inside of the metal shipping containers in the darkness.”
Olivet did not respond to several phone calls from the Weekly to address the allegations made by several of their employees at a recent press conference in front of the warehouse before the start of the long holiday weekend. The 455,000 square-foot warehouse in the heart of the vast inland logistics district is responsible for moving mostly multi piece luggage sets for Walmart with the brand name Protégé. This manufacture of consumer goods is atypical in the Walmart supply chain as it also distributes products to the globe’s largest retailer instead of utilizing a subcontractor.
The allegations of work place safety violations made more offensive due to the fact that Olivet is a member of the Fair Labor Association (FLA). The watchdog group for workers’ rights is a collaborative effort of so called “socially responsible companies” that has developed a workplace code of conduct for manufactures with means to monitor, remediate and verify high standards for employers.
The FLA did not respond to email inquires about the complaints filed on behalf Olivet employees to Cal/OSHA. The FLA has been part of the process to remedy the situation at the at the Apple supplier Foxconn in China. The factory became well known for suicide nets to prevent deaths to workers who chose to protest horrific working conditions by leaping off buildings.
“The work is very hard,” Cesar Garcia, who has worked at the warehouse for six years, told the Weekly. “It’s harder because the warehouse operator cuts every corner it can. We don’t always have lights in the containers so we use our cell phones for light. We don’t have the right safety equipment either. It’s very dangerous.”
Nationa statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor show that 4,609 workers were killed on the job in 2011. Three percent of those deaths resulted from the victim being caught in between objects like a forklift and trailer wall. Of those deaths, 729 were Latino, which the the agency dutifully reports is more than 14 deaths a week, or two Latino workers killed every single day of the year, all year long.
Fun fact: The word luggage comes from the verb lug meaning to carry or drag a heavy item with great effort.