Hundreds of people gathered at a major Walmart distribution center Monday in Elwood, Illinois, to stand in solidarity with workers who have been on strike since mid-September in response to unsafe working conditions and unfair wages.
“No one should come to work and endure extreme temperatures, inhale dust and chemical residue, and lift thousands of boxes weighing up to 250 lbs with no support. Workers never know how long the work day will be—sometimes its two hours, sometimes its 16 hours. Injuries are common, as is discrimination against women and illegal retaliation against workers who speak up for better treatment,” Warehouse Workers for Justice states on its official website.
The discrimination aspect of this list of grievances includes widespread sexual harassment and intimidation of female warehouse workers, an epidemic largely ignored by the establishment media, even among individuals, such as The New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof, known for focusing on female worker equality and empowerment in other countries.
“When I worked at the Walmart warehouse in Elwood, I was sexually harassed on a regular basis…. I literally got locked inside a trailer because that’s what the men thought I was there for…. I reported it to my supervisor, but he didn’t do anything about it,” said Ulyonda Dickerson, a worker at the Walmart warehouse in Elwood, in a report released by Warehouse Workers for Justice.
“I told the supervisors about it, but they definitely don’t listen. One supervisor I had tried to tell said, ‘I didn’t see that.’ Just because you didn’t see it, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” said Samantha Rodriguez, a former Elwood warehouse employee. “When I went to another supervisor about the harassment, he asked me out on a date. I said no, and eventually I got fired.”
In response to Monday’s peaceful protester, riot police from Will County and Elwood were unleashed on the crowd, and witnesses tweeted a series of disturbing photos, including officers in full riot regalia (face shields, clubs and body armor) and what appears to be a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) vehicle.
There was some confusion about the police’s jurisdiction on Twitter with individuals speculating the officers were private police given their “paramilitary” appearance.
Photos from the protest show officers restraining some protesters with zip-ties after police declared the event an “unlawful assembly.” Ultimately, seventeen peaceful protesters were arrested, and activists sang “We Shall Overcome” as they were cuffed and walked to a police transport unit.