Lawsuit Gives Workers At Wal-Mart Calif. Warehouse Big Win: 60% Raises

RIVERSIDE, Calif.—A victory in federal court against the owners of a Riverside, Calif., warehouse complex that is a main storehouse/shipment point for Wal-Mart has given the warehouse workers a big win: A 60% raise.

And the judge in the case earlier ruled that Wal-Mart can also be named as a defendant in the workers’ continuing complaint over conditions there, including 110-degree summer temperatures inside with no air conditioning, and freezes in the winter.

The win is important for low-paid workers nationwide: The Riverside warehouse workers were one of the first – if not the first – group of low-income, unorganized and exploited workers to speak up and demand both decent pay and their rights on the job.

The movement later spread to other Wal-Mart warehouse complexes, notably one in Joliet, Ill., and then to fast food and retail workers.  Those two low-paid groups started 1-day strikes with a walkout last November in New York City, and plan a nationwide walkout on August 29 (see separate story).

The 1,800 workers at the 3-building warehouse complex had toiled for a temp agency, Impact Logistics, before being shifted to the rolls of Schneider, Inc., the warehouse management firm that owns the complex.  Impact shorted the workers on overtime, said Warehouse Workers United, the union-backed group that aids workers.

The suit said the workers, who loaded and unloaded truck containers, were forced to work off the clock through 2011 – when they filed suit – were denied overtime pay and faced the retaliation.  California Labor Department standards enforcement officials also investigated and fined the warehouse owners $1 million just for time-clock recordkeeping violations alone.

The latest ruling, by U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder, orders the workers to get the back pay.  Meanwhile, Schneider has hired the workers as permanent regular employees.  That means labor law, including the right to organize, covers them.  And  Warehouse Workers United calculates the permanent jobs yield them the 60% raises.

Just over a year ago, Snyder added Wal-Mart as a defendant to the workers’ suit.  That means the monster retailer – known for its low wages, vicious anti-worker attitudes and labor law breaking – must also be responsible for the actions of its contractors and subcontractors, rather than hiding behind them.

All of the workers who were working for Impact elected to stay employed at the warehouse complex, Warehouse Workers United said.  The switch from Impact, the temp agency, to a permanent job with Schneider “means more job security at better pay with benefits,” it added.  A typical worker will go from earning $8.50 hourly with no benefits to earning $13.90 hourly with benefits.  Most of the workers are minorities.

“This demonstrates that the minute the staffing agencies were forced to comply with the law they began losing money because they could no longer cut corners,” said Guadalupe Palma, director of Warehouse Workers United.  “But the fact that now all workers at this critical Wal-Mart-contracted warehouses will make a living wage with benefits shows that improving the quality of warehousing jobs is entirely within reach for major retailers like Wal-Mart.”