Striking WalMart subcontractors joined with Chicago labor activists Monday to effectively blockade a major WalMart supply warehouse in the Will County town of Elwood.
Busloads of protesters from groups like Chicago Jobs With Justice descended upon Schneider Logistics where 38 manual laborers are on strike because, the workers say, subcontractor Roadlink committed wage theft and illegally retaliated against a worker petition.
Will County police ticketed and arrested fifteen people for blocking a road outside the warehouse.
Here is video of the protest:
The Elwood supply center is the largest WalMart distribution center in the country, according to Leah Fried, spokeswoman for Warehouse Workers For Justice, a Chicago group that assists the subcontractor employees.
Fried says the strike is “unusual” and she hopes it has long-term ramifications for the world’s largest retailer.
Part of WalMart’s ability to deliver low prices is not just low wages for retail employees, but also subpar pay for laborers that do the grunt work for the company’s international supply chain.
“It’s an extremely marginal workforce,” says Phillip Bailey a Roadlink worker who is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against Roadlink. “Folks are living very close to the edge. People are living in shelters or weekly hotels.”
Bailey says he’s been on the job for three months, which is “quite a lot” for a supply subcontractor. “Most people here don’t last longer than a day or two,” Bailey says.
Here is more from Bailey and fellow striking worker John Stachelski:
WalMart contracts out its Chicago area distribution center with Schneider Logistics. Schneider then subcontracts out who staffs the distribution warehouse to several staffing agencies, including Roadlink.
There have been no less than six lawsuits filed by Schneider workers in the last three years.
In the latest, filed September 20 in the U.S. District Court of Northern Illinois, four employees contend that Roadlink withheld wages and violated overtime pay laws to the extent that pay was “falling below the minimum wage in certain work weeks.”
Plaintiffs say that when they presented such complaints to Roadlink on September 9 the company told workers to leave the premises and threatened them with dismissal or suspension.
Employees subsequently filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board over this alleged retaliation.
It is legal under the National Labor Relations Act for non-union employees to strike so long as they are asserting that the employer violated specific labor laws.
There are about 100 Roadlink employees at Schneider, meaning that the majority of employees continue to work during the strike. According to Stachelski, “Some of the workers don’t like [the strike] and try to run us over in the morning, but the vast majority are supportive.”
A call to Roadlink was not returned. A WalMart spokesman told the Huffington Post that the company takes the worker allegations “very seriously”, but that the worker complaints are generally “unfounded” or “addressed.”