Wal-Mart warehouse strike heats up

The giant retailer had to shut down a distribution facility

Published October 3, 2012 10:45PM (EDT)

On Monday, 600-plus people marched to Wal-Mart's vast distribution warehouse in Elwood, Ill., to show support for 30 non-union workers who have been on strike since mid-September. Riot police were called in and arrested 17 people as a group of marchers sat down to block the road to the warehouse. However, in successfully shutting down the facility for the day, strikers and their supporters estimate their protest Monday cost the company several million dollars.

The civil disobedience also brought attention to the strike, which has continued for weeks with no media fanfare. Workers cite unsafe conditions and low wages as fueling their industrial action, along with complaints about long shifts with no breaks and sexual harassment. Micah Uetricht reported for Labor Notes on Monday's march, the strike and the reasons underpinning it:

At the rally—surely the largest in Elwood history—workers told of backbreaking work for little pay, temperatures that oscillate between sweltering heat and bitter cold, management retaliation, and gender discrimination.

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 [Warehouse Workers for Justice] says such reports are common.

Uetricht noted that, according to WWJ, "brutal working conditions, wage theft, and management retaliation against organizing workers are rampant—and the big-box companies like Walmart who are supplied by these warehouses use the complicated layers of subcontracting to avoid responsibility for working conditions."

The strike and supportive protest in Illinois follows the walkout of non-union workers at another Wal-Mart warehouse near Riverside, Calif., which ended last week after 15 days when Wal-Mart said it would “review contracts and look into third-party monitoring of all contractors.”

For labor commentators, two strikes in such swift succession suggests a renewed willingness to stand up to Wal-Mart, a company known for its aversion to unions. On the heels of the Chicago teachers' strike, labor organizing looks to be on the up.

By Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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Business Illinois Labor Strike The Labor Movement Wal-mart Warehouse Strike Workers