Quick Hit Matthew Blake Tuesday October 9th, 2012, 9:31pm

Chicago Area Walmart Supply Workers End Strike, Win Back Pay

Employees at a giant Walmart supply warehouse in rural Will County returned to work Saturday after staging a 21-day strike in response to alleged employer retaliation by a Walmart subcontractor.

The settlement with RoadLink – a California-based subcontractor that helps staff Schneider Logistics, the Walmart warehouse in Elwood – comes amid a historic walkout by Walmart retail workers throughout the country. It also follows Walmart supply workers in the Los Angeles area ending their own strike.

According to Phillip Bailey, a striking RoadLink employee, the 38 workers on strike received letters in the mail from the company in which they rescinded their retaliation action. The subcontractor also welcomed workers back to the warehouse and provided back pay for their three weeks on the picket line.

Bailey says the settlement is “thrilling” and “absolutely empowering”, but it will take “years and hundreds more people” to improve the working conditions of Walmart supply warehouses.

Bailey and other employees came to RoadLink on September 9 with a list of grievances largely centered on wage theft.

Workers told their bosses they clocked in 12-hour days doing such repetitive physical activities as lifting freight cargo and pushing hundreds of pounds worth of boxes on carts. Also, they worked under insufferably hot conditions in the summer. For this work, they were not paid overtime, which is legally required for hourly employees who work more than 40 hours a week.

Bailey says that after hearing their complaints, RoadLink demanded that the employees vacate the premises.

With the help of Chicago-based advocacy group Warehouse Workers For Justice, the non-union workers then asserted their legal right to strike, which can take place if an employer has violated labor laws.

The strike included a massive protest on October 1 involving Chicago labor groups, which resulted in Schneider Logistics closing for the day. Striking workers additionally dropped off a petition with 96,000 signatures to the West Loop Walmart on Friday.

RoadLink has apparently conceded the retaliation point – or at least let the workers return to their jobs with back pay. Calls to the company’s corporate headquarters this afternoon were not immediately returned.

However, the conflict seems to have only begun: four employee plaintiffs, including Bailey, filed a federal lawsuit against the subcontractor, alleging these wage theft violations. Also, employees filed an unfair labor practice complaint before the National Labor Relations Board.

“All the strike was about was retaliation,” Bailey clarifies. “It was not about working conditions.”

Bailey professed excitement that his group's disruption of Walmart’s international supply chain preceded Walmart retail workers in a dozen cities, including Chicago, launching a strike with the claim of unfair labor practices. The strike began Thursday at the Walmart in Pico Riveria, California.

Workers are expected to descend tomorrow upon the retail giant’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas; where the company is holding their annual financial analyst meeting.

Tomorrow morning, national labor and faith-based leaders are also scheduled to announce their next steps regarding a nationally-coordinated labor action. Protests will also take place in several cities and at least 32 stores in the Chicago area tomorrow. Check back in with Progress Illinois for more on what is an extraordinary time for workers' voices at the anti-union retail behemoth.

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If anyone's looking for more information, Democracy Now! had a great segment about the strike on their show today. They spoke to a Walmart warehouse employee in Illinois and labor reporter Josh Eidelson, you can see it at democracynow.org

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