Tough to pin down who’s responsible for warehouse workers
September 14, 2012 9:14PM
Warehouse Workers United protest working conditions in Ontario, Ca. on September 13, 2012. Supplied photo.
Updated: January 15, 2013 1:43PM
While warehouse worker complaints have been simmering in Will County for the past three years, they’re boiling over in Southern California.
The fact that two warehouse workers’ rights groups have sprung up 2,000 miles apart, indicates something is wrong in this industry.
Warehouse Workers for Justice came to Will County in the summer of 2009 to help workers who complained of not being paid for hours worked and who said they were becoming permanent temporary workers who never had access to job security or benefits.
Meanwhile, Warehouse Workers United, which also was founded in 2009, was operating in a similar capacity in Southern California where the “Inland Empire” shipping hub employed thousands of warehouse workers, too.
Last week, three dozen workers walked off the job at the Walmart warehouse in Mira Loma, Calif., to protest unfair labor practices. Starting Thursday, the striking workers and others affiliated with Warehouse Workers United started a five-day, 50-mile “WalMarch” from Riverside to downtown Los Angeles to publicize the problems warehouse workers are facing.
One of the biggest problems in the industry seems to be the use of third-party logistics partners. In California, the Walmart warehouse workers who are on strike are employed by two subcontractors: NFI Industries and Warestaff, a temp agency.
In Elwood, Walmart employs Schneider National, and Schneider National hired Roadlink Workforce Solutions to help run and staff its warehouse. So if employees complain, or file lawsuits — which they have done six times at the Walmart warehouse in the past couple of years — Walmart refers calls to Schneider.
It’s not just employees who get this runaround. I called Walmart for a reaction to the latest wage theft lawsuit, filed in federal court in Chicago on Thursday against Roadlink Workforce Solutions, and the email I got referred me to Schneider.
“Received your message regarding Roadlink,” said Walmart spokesman Dan Fogelman. “Walmart doesn’t have any type of warehouse management relationship with (Roadlink). It’s my understanding Roadlink does some work for Schneider National, which is one of our service providers.”
He gave me the number for Schneider’s spokesman. In the email response, he also included Walmart’s standard line when asked about lawsuits or complaints:
“At Walmart, we hold all of our service providers and their subcontractors to the highest standards. We expect and require them to comply with the law and, if violations occur, to take corrective action immediately.”
I asked Fogelman if Walmart had ever taken action against “service providers.” As of Friday, he had not responded.
Elizabeth Brennan, a spokeswoman for Warehouse Workers United in California, said that while Walmart may shift inquiries to its second- and third-party providers, “All the trucks that go in their warehouse say ‘Walmart.’ ”