Workers at a Mira Loma, Calif., distribution center have leveled a complaint alleging that they were retaliated against for going on strike and engaging in a six-day protest march over worksite safety conditions.
The charges against subcontractors that distribute goods for retail giant Wal-Mart accuse the subcontractors of reducing employee working hours and unlawfully firing workers in retaliation for workers participating in a September 2012 walkout.
The complaint, filed Oct. 11, 2012, by Warehouse Workers United (WWU), has asked the National Labor Relations Board to look into allegations that the Mira Loma distribution center operated by NFI Industries wrongly retaliated against workers because of the protest march they had participated in. Included in the complaint was WareStaff, an employment firm that provided many of the Mira Loma warehouse workers to NFI.
The charges also alleged that workers were retaliated against for discussing the possibility of being represented by a union; such retaliation would be a violation of the National Labor Relations Act.
The two companies are named as joint employers in the labor board complaint. Wal-Mart was not named.
The complaint alleged that on Sept. 13, 2012, 33 warehouse workers employed by WareStaff and NFI went on a 15-day strike to protest what they believed were unfair labor practices and ongoing work hazards that have been the subject of California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) complaints and investigations.
The complaint states that “the employer is retaliating against returning strikers in ways both subtle and not, through discharges, temporary layoffs, demotions, suspensions and threats.”
The charges will be investigated by the labor board. If the federal agency finds merit to the charges, it will issue a formal complaint against the two companies and set a date for a hearing.
NFI spokeswoman Kathleen Hessert said in a statement that the company is reviewing the complaint.
WWU is coordinated with Change to Win, a national coalition of unions that has been attempting to unionize workers at Wal-Mart stores and throughout the Wal-Mart supply chain.
As SHRM Online reported in September, Mira Loma warehouse workers went on strike and embarked on a “Walmarch,” a six-day, 50-mile march from the Inland Empire to Los Angeles to raise awareness about warehouse conditions.
The strike was meant to protest unsafe working conditions, including alleged broken equipment, dangerously high temperatures, poor ventilation and inadequate access to clean drinking water.
WWU Communications Director Elizabeth Brennan told SHRM Online that “conditions were so bad the workers felt they needed to take dramatic action to fix the problems in the warehouse.”
These warehouse workers are temporary workers. They are contracted with temp staffing agency WareStaff, which is contracted with logistics company NFI, which is contracted with Wal-Mart.
Brennan told SHRM Online that this arrangement is meant to shield Wal-Mart from liability for safety and wage law violations and to serve as a firewall to union organizing.
Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Fogleman said in a statement that the company intends to address the workers’ complaints. “We continue to take this matter seriously because it’s important to us that workers in our supply chain are treated with dignity and respect,” he said.
Without admitting liability, in May 2012 NFI settled previous retaliation claims by six workers at three warehouses in Chino, Calif. As part of the settlement, NFI agreed to rehire most of the workers and provide back pay.
Mira Loma warehouse workers have also recently filed two sets of safety complaints with Cal/OSHA, regarding NFI’s warehouse. The complaints allege hazards such as blocked emergency exits and lack of safety training for operators of forklifts and other equipment.
Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
Calif. Warehouse Workers Present Safety Grievances to Wal-Mart, SHRM Online Safety and Security Discipline, September 2012
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