Update (10 pm Tuesday, November 13): According to a Warehouse Workers United spokesperson, Mira Loma warehouse workers experienced a new wave of retaliation Tuesday. In response, the workers decided tonight to begin their strike a day early, at 8 am Pacific Time Wednesday. The strike will continue into Thursday, when workers will rally with supporters as originally planned.
Thursday, Walmart warehouse workers are headed back to the picket line. At 8 am PST, twenty-some workers in Mira Loma, California, plan to launch a one-day walkout that could spread to more workers, including retail employees in Walmart stores. Thursday’s strike will be the latest in an unprecedented wave of work stoppages throughout the retail giant’s US supply chain. It follows strikes by seafood workers in June, by warehouse workers in September, and by 160 retail workers in twelve states last month. It comes a week before Black Friday, the post-Thanksgiving shopping extravaganza that workers have pledged—barring concessions from the company—will bring their biggest disruptions yet.
“Hopefully it will make a dent in their production…” said Raymond Castillo, “and it gets their attention, that we’re not playing around.” Castillo and other Mira Loma workers struck in September, and voted Sunday to do it again on Thursday. According to Castillo, workers started organizing because of unsafe and unsanitary conditions: crooked ramps caused serious injuries; workers’ drinking water came from a hose. The organizing brought retaliation, which inspired a strike, which drew more punishment. “Since we’ve all been retaliated against,” said Castillo, “it was a pretty easy decision for all of us to go back on strike.”
On paper, Castillo and his co-workers are employed by a Walmart subcontractor, Warestaff. But because Walmart is the beneficiary of all of his work, and the boss of his boss’ boss, Castillo says his conditions are all Walmart’s fault. Walmart does not agree. But Wisconsin Walmart store worker Jackie Goebel does: “All of us that work for Walmart, either on the retail end of it, or on the warehouse end of it, have the same issues.”
Walmart, the world’s largest private sector employer, has been entirely union-free in the United States since its founding in Arkansas fifty years ago. Walmart’s cost-cutting and just-in-time logistics have revolutionized its industries—even for its unionized competitors. That’s made it an irresistible target for US unions, which have launched a series of campaigns against the company over the past two decades. But until last month, Walmart had never seen workers at multiple US stores go on strike.
That changed October 4, when workers struck at nine southern California stores for one day; a two-day, twelve-state strike followed on October 9. While that ended with an announcement that employees would return to work to mobilize coworkers for Black Friday, the past few weeks haven’t been entirely strike-free. This month has already seen a walkout at an Ennis, Texas, Walmart, and a sit-in and strike during the grand reopening of a store in Richmond, California. One of the Richmond strikers, Semetra Lee, said workers there were galvanized by retaliation and disrespect. When one worker tied a rope around his waist in an effort to pull a heavy object, said Lee, “our supervisor said to him, ‘Well, if you left it up to me, I would put it around your neck.”