The California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement has ordered a southern California warehouse responsible for labeling, tagging and packing apparel and shoes for retailers such as Wal-Mart to pay $1.1 million in back wages and overtime to 865 workers. The company, Quetico, LLC, will also pay $200,000 in fines.
The large warehouse in Chino, California has been cited for multiple violations by various agencies in the past year including unsafe working conditions and retaliating against workers who asked for back pay. For warehouse workers nationwide it is a victory that can hopefully be replicated elsewhere:
“Quetico is strict when it comes to enforcing its rules with workers so it is only fair that the state enforce the laws that the company broke,” said Abraham Guzman, a warehouse worker who has been at Quetico for about two and a half years. “I am satisfied that the law will now be followed and workers have won justice.”
Throughout 2012 the workers were assisted by the Warehouse Worker Resource Center, an advocacy organization that works with Warehouse Workers United. WWU received complaints that workers in the Quetico warehouse were not being paid for time worked, were being forced to work on their lunch breaks, and had their time cards manually changed by management to show less hours worked. These illegal adjustments were then chalked up to “faulty warehouse time clocks.”
Those who complained had their pay restored but only after receiving a warning. After three warnings they were fired. According to Guadalupe Palma, a director with Warehouse Workers United,
“Workers face particularly egregious working conditions at Quetico. Workers were routinely punished if they asked to be paid for the time they worked. Many workers opted not to receive the pay they were owed just to keep their jobs.”
Warehouse Workers United has been at the center of the recent wave of protests against Wal-Mart and the abuses that occur in their subcontracted supply chain. Representatives of WWU are pleased with the outcome in Chino but have their sights set on Wal-Mart itself being held responsible for the abuses that happen in the warehouses that provide their goods. In a press release the WWU said,
“Many problems that we commonly see in Southern California warehouses are concentrated at this warehouse,” said Guadalupe Palma, a director with Warehouse Workers United. “We are grateful that the state has taken such dramatic action.”
Warehouse workers at a nearby facility that moves merchandise exclusively for Walmart and is operated by Schneider Logistics filed a federal lawsuit in October 2011 alleging massive wage and hour violations at a Walmart-contracted warehouse in Southern California. In January Judge Christina Snyder ruled that Walmart can be added as a defendant in the lawsuit to recover millions of dollars in stolen wages.
State labor Commissioner Julie Su issued the citations on Monday. Su said, in a statement from her office,
“Wage theft takes many forms. My office will crack down on any employer who is taking hard-earned wages from workers by falsifying time cards and systematically preventing employees from taking a full meal break…. We are also intent on eliminating the competitive advantages that labor law violators gain over employers who play by the rules.”