Protesters hold up a sign commemorating those killed in recent clothing factory tragedies in Bangladesh outside Walmart Stores Inc. headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, June 5, 2013. (Reuters/Rick Wilking)
An update with comment from Olivet appears below.
At 5 am PST today, non-union workers moving Walmart goods at a California warehouse plan to launch a two-day surprise strike in protest of alleged retaliation for exposing safety risks. Organizers expect at least thirty of the warehouse’s 200-some employees to join the work stoppage, the latest in a wave of Walmart supply chain strikes.
“I’m scared because I need to work for my family’s sake,” employee Miriam Garcia told The Nation, in Spanish. Garcia said she worried that the strike could cost her her job. “But I don’t want me or my co-workers to keep working in these conditions.”
The Mira Loma, California, warehouse is operated by Olivet International, an apparel and luggage company. Employees say management told them in a mandatory meeting that about 70 percent of the product the facility moves is for Walmart, and workers charge that the retail giant bears responsibility for alleged abuse there. As The Nation has reported, Walmart has faced increasing scrutiny over labor conditions of sub-contracted workers in its supply chain, both within the United States and abroad. “I think they have a lot of responsibility,” warehouse worker Heidi Baizabal said, in Spanish. “They need to see the conditions we’re working in. Because even though we don’t work directly for Walmart, we’re moving their merchandise.”
Olivet did not respond to Monday or Tuesday requests for comment regarding the workers’ allegations. Reached by e-mail Tuesday, a Walmart spokesperson did not directly address the safety or intimidation allegations, but said the warehouse “isn’t a Walmart or Walmart dedicated facility.”
Today’s strike is backed by Warehouse Workers United, a project of the Change to Win union federation. It comes two months after twenty-one Olivet warehouse employees filed a formal complaint with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, alleging rampant safety violations: emergency exits blocked by boxes and merchandise; forklift brakes, seatbelts and horns that don’t work; workers loading shipping containers in the dark; triple-stacked and unsecured boxes; lack of ventilation or adequate water amid intense heat; “a risk of workers being hit by forklifts” and workers “trapped inside trailers as they drive off.”
“It’s important that I make it home to my family safe, in good health,” Garcia told The Nation. “I don’t want to get injured [at work] like my other co-workers.” Along with “a good salary,” said Baizabal, “we want simple things we have the right to, like clean water.” She said that workers’ repeated efforts to address issues with Olivet had proven a dead end: “For me, it took a lot of courage to go to managers with our concerns. And then we kept doing it, and every time, they ignored us.”