A regional warehouse rights movement made its way to Chicago on Friday when a protest group convened at a Walmart
in the South Loop
to demonstrate against poor working conditions.
Naomi Reed (center) presents Walmart manager (left) with 100,000 signatures protesting warehouse conditions.
Members of the Warehouse Workers for Justice gathered in front of the Walmart Neighborhood Market, 570 W. Monroe St., to deliver a 100,000 signature petition to Walmart management detailing the demands of angry workers regarding low wages, unsafe working conditions, wage theft, discrimination and ten recorded incidents of illegal retaliation.
“The conditions in the warehouse are poor,” Yolanda Dickerson said, a former Walmart warehouse loader/unloader. “People pass out in the summer time. They get sick and the supervisors don’t care. Most are homeless, poor and can’t feed their families. There is a lot of stuff going on that people don’t know about.”
The 21-day strike started in Elwood, Ill. on Sept. 15 after a group of 30 warehouse workers approached staffing contractors about poor conditions, wage theft and discrimination at which point Walmart management personnel drove a forklift into the employees and then fired them, according to Naomi Reed, an organizer with Warehouse Workers for Justice.
“It is illegal to threaten workers or fire them for collective activity according to the National Labor Relations Act,” Reed said. “The reality is that these workers are on strike because when they approached contractors about wage theft, management drove a giant forklift into them and fired four of the leaders in that group of 30.”
According to Reed, conditions are incredibly unsafe in the Walmart warehouses and Walmart has been notified on numerous occasions of the problems taking place.
“There’s been numerous reports of sexual harassment and gender discrimination as well as dangerous conditions where people are getting hurt. A person died in the warehouse, and it’s not quite clear how, but it’s very distressing to people,” Reed said.
Reed said people are injured and never seen again because they’re hurt and they have no health insurance or paid sick days, so they lose their job if they don’t come in to work due to medical leave.
“Workers are getting fed up and walking out,” Dickerson said. “Workers aren’t getting paid right, they’re being treated badly and there are so many health problems and safety issues in the warehouse. We want our workers to get what they work for.”
The WWFJ gathering in Chicago was just one stop in a regional itinerary to demonstrate against the warehouse iniquities. According to Holly Kent-Payne, a striking warehouse worker, 600 people gathered on Oct. 1 with teachers and members of clergy at the Elwood Walmart Distribution Center, 26453 Center Point Dr, resulting in a temporary hold on warehouse activity.
“We had a huge rally on Monday at the Elwood warehouse,” Kent-Payne said. “The bosses were so scared they shut the entire warehouse down, losing millions and millions of dollars.”
The strike against Walmart is taking place in California as well, underscoring the international scale of the movement and the widespread uproar against low wages and poor working conditions for low-income groups trying to make a living.
“Workers have been very united and they’ve gotten tremendous support throughout the country,” said Reed. “They are prepared to stay on strike until they get justice.”