A Walmart distribution center. (Flickr/Walmart Corporate)
The National Labor Relations Board has issued a complaint against four companies involved in staffing and managing Walmart’s largest distribution center in the United States. The NLRB complaint—similar to an indictment—alleges that the companies repeatedly threatened and punished warehouse workers for labor organizing, including by firing activists involved in a September strike that helped to inspire November’s Black Friday retail walkout.
“They had targeted the organizers ever since we got back to the warehouse,” Philip Bailey, one of the fired workers, told The Nation Monday.
The Labor Board complaint, issued February 28, alleges that in order to discourage the Elwood, Illinois, warehouse workers from organizing, managers from the four companies—Roadlink Workforce Solutions, Skyward Employment Services, Select Remedy and Schneider Logistics—repeatedly broke the law. This included illegally threatening workers with firing or arrest; punishing employees by cancelling their breaks and increasing their workload; making workers believe they were under surveillance; and terminating six activist workers on November 10.
Leah Fried, a spokesperson for the union-backed group Warehouse Workers for Justice, said Wednesday that the NLRB had also found merit in an additional round of charges, alleging that the Walmart sub-contractor Roadlink illegally fired three more workers after they delivered a petition to management on November 17. (Roadlink and the NLRB did not immediately respond to inquiries from The Nation.)
Walmart did not respond to requests for comment; neither did Walmart contractor Schneider Logistics, which directly or indirectly employs the other three defendants. Walmart itself is not named as a defendant in the complaints, which come as the retail giant faces heightened scrutiny and scattered protests over conditions throughout its supply chain.
The Elwood distribution center plays a key role in that chain, and has recently become an epicenter of worker activism. Organizers say that 70 percent of Walmart’s total imports to the United States travel through the Elwood facility, which is owned by Walmart. Since 2011, some employees in the non-union facility have been organizing with the Warehouse Workers Organizing Committee, a group backed by the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) union.
Bailey told The Nation that workers were driven to organize by low pay, disrespectful management and unsafe conditions. When he started, said Bailey, “there really wasn’t a day in there where wasn’t an injury.” When one worker “got his shin busted open by a cart,” he added, management “made him drive himself to the clinic” and return to work the same day, while medicated.