In Elwood, Illinois, nearly 600 supporters of striking Wal-Mart warehouse workers used civil disobedience to shut down an important distribution warehouse that may have cost the company an estimated eight million dollars. The 30 people who are currently striking at the facility were joined by numerous labor supporters and clergymen hoping to shine light on the abuse and mistreatment of workers that enable Wal-Mart to provide such low prices.
On September 15th, the 30 workers, members of the Warehouse Workers Organizing Committee, walked off the job to protest unfair labor practices.
The protest began at a park and eventually made its way to the front gates of the warehouse which routinely sees a stream of semi-trucks leaving the facility and getting onto I-55. There, protesters sat down and quietly sand “We shall overcome.” They encountered an alarmingly aggressive police response which included nearly 2 dozen riot police armed with head to toe riot gear and long range acoustic devices. This led to what was likely the only comedic part of the protest. According to Labor Notes,
As police prepared to make the arrests, strikers pointed at riot officers’ legs and started a chant referencing the common warehouse problem of constantly bruised shins. “You’ve got shinguards! We want shinguards!” they chanted.
This was a reference to one of the many complaints from warehouse workers that their shins are constantly bruised due to faulty machinery. Daniel Meadows, a striker who had been at the warehouse since January and in the industry for six years, told Labor Notes:
“You literally can’t do anything after a shift,” he said, describing his work unloading 270-pound grills from trucks alone, by hand. “You’re so exhausted. In the summer, you’re soaked in sweat. In the winter, you’re freezing. You constantly have bruised shins,” from heavy carts with no brakes slamming into workers’ legs.
Meadows, like many working at the warehouse, is employed through a temp agency. Wal-Mart and their sub-contractors’ use of “permatemps” has been condemned by many because it gives employees little recourse for their abuse. This form of mislcassification also denies workers benefits. The complaints do not stop there:
Yolanda Dickerson, who had worked in a warehouse for two years, says she “was sexually harassed on a regular basis,” recounting an incident of being locked in a trailer by male co-workers. After Dickerson reported the incident, she says management did nothing. WWJ says such reports are common.
Compton says “there’s no such thing as a raise in there,” and describes the turnover rate as “unreal,” a result of the brutality of the work and the callousness of managers.
“[Management] has no regard for our lives outside the warehouse,” he says.
The instability of the working environment at Wal-Mart is too much to take for these so-called temporary workers. A constant supply of new workers are routinely hired, only to be fired, so that management can constantly reiterate how disposable workers are.
According to WWJ organizer Leah Fried,
“Walmart needs to take responsibility for the pattern of egregious abuses in its supply chain.”
Anti-Wal-Mart actions have ramped up in the past few months. In July, marchers protested the opening of Los Angeles County’s 213th Wal-Mart and yesterday 70 workers walked off the job in Los Angeles, the first time workers have staged a multi-store protest in the company’s 50 year California history.