Striking Walmart warehouse workers reach deal, return to work
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain firstname.lastname@example.org October 8, 2012 2:24PM
People rally in support of striking Walmart warehouse workers Oct. 1 in Elwood. Workers settled Saturday and returned to work. | Sun-Times Media file photo
Updated: November 10, 2012 6:12AM
Workers fighting for improved working conditions at the Walmart warehouse in Elwood say they have achieved a major victory in their struggle.
On Saturday, 38 nonunion workers who were on strike at the warehouse settled their grievances with Roadlink Workforce Solutions, the company that staffs the Walmart warehouse.
Workers won their principal demand for an end to illegal retaliation against workers who protest poor conditions, said Leah Fried, an organizer with Warehouse Workers for Justice, an agency that came to Joliet three years ago to improve worker conditions in area warehouses.
The striking Walmart warehouse workers began to return to work on Saturday, and they have been promised that they will receive back pay for the three weeks they were on strike, Fried said. Half of the amount was paid when the employees walked into work, she said.
Roadlink also agreed to install fans to cool off the warehouse, and it provided shin guards to cut down on leg injuries as employees unload cargo containers, Fried reported.
“With this victory, we forced the company to respect our rights,” Ted Ledwa, one of the striking workers, said in a WWJ press release. “We showed that when workers are united we can stand up to the biggest corporations in the world and win.”
‘Wage theft’ claim
On Sept. 13, workers filed a class action lawsuit against Roadlink for “wage theft.” Two days later, when workers attempted to talk to Roadlink managers about problems at the warehouse, four members of the group were fired and 10 were suspended. More employees later walked off the job to support the disciplined employee, Fried said.
Walmart owns the 3.4 million-square-foot warehouse, but it hired Schneider Logistics to run the facility and Roadlink to staff it, which is what’s known as a third-party logistics arrangement in the warehouse industry. The workers who were on strike worked for Roadlink.
Roadlink has had no comment on the strike and a spokesman could not be reached Monday for comment on the settlement. A Schneider spokesman said last week that when the company uses third-party vendors, “we contractually require full compliance with all required laws and that all parties conduct business ethically.”
Walmart had no comment on Saturday’s strike settlement. But spokesman Dan Fogleman said previously that Walmart executives toured the warehouse and all issues were either “unfounded or, if legitimate, have been addressed.”
The company plans to institute random inspections to make sure third-party contractors are complying with the law and take steps that will ensure workers at all levels of the supply chain “are treated with dignity and respect,” Fogleman said.
On Oct. 1, WWJ staged a rally and civil disobedience event in front of the warehouse that drew about 600 supporters. Seventeen protesters who sat in the road to block the Walmart warehouse shipping entrance were arrested by riot police and ticketed.
The Elwood strike started shortly after nonunion workers at a Southern California warehouse that moves Walmart merchandise went on strike. They staged a six-day, 50-mile “Walmarch” to publicize their complaints about working conditions in the warehouse. That strike was settled on Sept. 28.