Image source: The Guardian
Walmart has announced plans to start overseeing local warehouses that sort and move imported goods headed to Walmart outlets, Wall Street Journal reports. The announcement came following legal issues and worker strikes amid complaints that subcontractors hired by Walmart to handle warehouse operations provide less than ideal working conditions. Walmart has promised to start monitoring its US warehouses in pretty much the same way it oversees factories abroad.
Workers at a Walmart-contracted warehouse in Southern California walked off their jobs just before Black Friday last month in protest of withheld wages and poor working conditions. The series of “Walmarches” began on September 12, when three dozen California workers who moved goods for Walmart staged a strike – even without union protection. A broader strike sanctioned by Warehouse Workers United then ensued, threatening to disrupt the mega-retailers’ holiday operations.
The workers from Southern California were employed by an agency called Warestaff, which contracts with a warehouse run by NFI, a logistics company that works for Walmart. None of the workers were directly employed by Walmart but as the drama unfolded, it was revealed that most, if not all of them, are still registered as “temp” employees despite many of them having been on the job for several years.
Warehouse workers at a Walmart facility in Joliet area of Illinois also went on strike three months ago, citing unsafe working conditions, low pay, and faulty equipment as causes for complaint. Along with Southern California, Chicago is also a major shipping hub for US retailers moving products to their stores.
Warehouse Workers United, which represents workers in the Inland Empire area, accused Warestaff of suspending workers, particularly those who have been actively speaking about health and safety problems, in “retaliation” against the strikes.
Walmart has since stated that subcontractors should be responsible for following safety and labor laws but that it is already “crafting a system similar to the one used to oversee factories abroad to monitor its domestic branch.” Warehouse jobs are fast-growing in the US retail sector. It is not uncommon for major store chains to subcontract warehouse staffing and operations.
Last month, the warehouse workers from Southern California and Chicago met for the first time with Walmart company executives. Walmart V.P. of Communications David Tovar told the press afterwards that the Walmart was taking the allegations seriously. The mega-retailer has started auditing the third-party warehouses and hopes to continue dialogue with the workers.