August 9, 2012
Workers Describe Jobs Rife with Retaliation, Hazards and Low Pay
LOS ANGELES – Workers representing four links in Walmart’s global supply chain – food production, processing, warehousing and retail – today filed a formal ethics complaint with Walmart’s corporate executives in Los Angeles. The complaint outlines systemic violations of Walmart’s own Statement of Ethics and Standards for Suppliers.
Standing in front of the proposed site of a Walmart store in Los Angeles’ Chinatown, workers and supporters described working conditions that include enslavement, injury, hazardous equipment, retaliatory firings and chemical exposure in the production, transport and sale of Walmart merchandise.
“This is a pattern. No matter the country, no matter the workplace, no matter the worker, we see that Walmart and its contractors’ deny responsibility, ignore serious problems and fire workers who stand up for change. This behavior should not be rewarded with more stores,” said Guadalupe Palma, a campaign director with Warehouse Workers United, an organization committed to improving warehousing jobs in the Inland Empire.
Warehouse workers who move Walmart goods in Southern California are part of an increasing number of workers stepping out of the shadows and calling attention to unsafe and illegal treatment of workers employed by Walmart and its contractors.
“So many of my coworkers are living in pain because of the pressure to work fast or lose our jobs,” said Limber Herrera, a warehouse worker in Riverside. “We often breathe a thick black dust that gives us nosebleeds and headaches. We want Walmart to take responsibility and fix these bad working conditions.”
Workers and supporters also presented copies of two petitions to Walmart that garnered a combined 250,000 signatures and cast light on conditions faced by seafood workers who work for Walmart suppliers. Ana Rosa Diaz, one of eight guestworkers who exposed forced labor at Walmart supplier C.J.’s Seafood in Louisiana last month, spoke at the event. Only after Diaz went on strike and 150,000 people pledged their support was Walmart forced to admit to labor violations and suspend its contract with the supplier.
“We know that hundreds of other guestworkers at other Walmart suppliers are facing abuse,” said Diaz, a member of the National Guestworker Alliance. “The U.S. Department of Labor has confirmed our claims of abuse at C.J.’s Seafood. Now it’s time for Walmart to sit down with us to agree to a solution to stop abuse across its supply chain.”
In Thailand, it was revealed in June that a major Walmart shrimp supplier was engaged in debt bondage. After workers struck, causing media and consumer scrutiny, the Walmart supplier, Patthana, pledged to end its practice of debt bondage. However, many workers in Walmart’s supply chain remain vulnerable to other abuses. At a Thai pineapple factory, Vita Foods, that also supplies Walmart there are reports of human trafficking similar to those at Patthana, including that children under the age of 15 have been bought and sold to work there.
“Globalization for the working poor of the world means that American warehouse workers today have more in common with factory workers in Thailand’s shrimp and pineapple factories than with the one-percenters in their own country who profit from their labor. Hyper-exploitation is the global labor standard Walmart has chosen to pursue. This just means the fight for justice for Walmart’s workers is that much bigger. Thailand may seem far away to the Walton heirs, but we are going to bring the plight of Thai workers to the suburbs of Arkansas. You bring home the profits, you bring home the struggle too,” said Chancee Martorell, executive director of the Thai Community Development Center, representing the Thai workers.
Through the organization OUR Walmart, store associates are fighting for and winning changes at Walmart to help workers, who are struggling to support their families on low-wages, reductions in hours, unaffordable healthcare, unjust terminations and unsafe and discriminatory working conditions. In Riverside, after warehouse workers filed a comprehensive complaint with the state of California detailing broken equipment, limited access to water, extreme heat and other violations of state law, two warehouse workers were suspended indefinitely. Both Carlos Martinez and David Garcia won their return to work after filing charges with the state.
“We are standing up for ourselves and our co-workers to make real changes at Walmart and we will not be silenced,” said Greg Fletcher, a father of two sons and a member of OUR Walmart. “Even though Walmart is the biggest company in the country, the company is not above the law. When we stand together and hold Walmart accountable, we are winning protections for workers, our community and our economy.”
Fletcher is a six-year Walmart associate in Duarte, California.
Members of the Chinatown community joined the rally saying residents are not interested in the expansion of low wage jobs, retaliation, injury and dangerous working conditions and a destruction of the local community.
“We stand with the workers against retaliation, injury and dangerous working conditions. It is illegal, and it is immoral,” King Cheung, a member of the Chinatown Committee for Equitable Development. “For the world’s largest retailer, Walmart pays its workers substandard low wages. Chinatown deserves better than Walmart. Walmart is well known for bad treatment of its workers. It is also well known for harming small businesses and communities. That is why we do not want Walmart here in LA Chinatown.”
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) represents more than 1.3 million workers, primarily in the retail and meatpacking, food processing and poultry industries. The UFCW protects the rights of workers and strengthens America’s middle class by fighting for health care reform, living wages, retirement security, safe working conditions and the right to unionize so that working men and women and their families can realize the American Dream. For more information about the UFCW’s effort to protect workers’ rights and strengthen America’s middle class, visit www.ufcw.org, or join our online community at www.facebook.com/UFCWinternational and www.twitter.com/ufcw.