Wal-Mart Workers, Allies Up Activisim Ahead of ‘Black Friday’; NLRB General Counsel Files Labor Law-Breaking Complaint

“Black Friday,” that annual mad shopping dash – and annual chaos for low-paid retail workers – is scheduled for Nov. 29, but Wal-Mart workers and their allies nationwide aren’t waiting for that to increase their activism against the monster anti-worker retailer.  They’ve started already, notably in Los Angeles.  And the National Labor Relations Board’s top enforcement officer is going after the behemoth, too.

Hundreds of workers’ actions against Wal-Mart nationwide this year will occur on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.  All the actions are important indicators of the rising discontent nationwide against low wages, bad benefits, income inequality and the corporate-engineered “race to the bottom” – with Wal-Mart leading the way.

Two actions against the megamonster, known for its always-low wages, always-bad benefits and rampant labor law-breaking, came Nov. 18.

Teamster warehouse workersandportdrivers-la.nov22

TRUCKERS AND WAREHOUSE WORKERS picket in California outside warehouses whose owners store goods for the anti-worker retail monster Wal-Mart. The truckers, who move the goods to the warehouses from the port of Los Angeles, protested being called “independent contractors” and denied workers’ rights. The warehouse workers protested inhumane conditions. These protests preceded national action against Wal-Mart planned for Black Friday, Nov. 29. Photo courtesy the Teamsters via PAI Photo Service.

On the ground, more than one-third of non-union “independent contractor” truck drivers at the Port of Los Angeles walked out against Green Fleet Systems, Pac9 and American Logistics International.  The three firms’ fleets truck imported goods from the port inland to warehouses serving Wal-Mart, and to warehouses for other retailers.

The walkout “put a serious crimp in their operations,” Teamsters Local 848 Secretary-Treasurer Eric Tate, who coordinated the action, said in a phone interview.  The firms couldn’t move their goods to warehouses of Wal-Mart and the others.  “We put a line up” and drivers refused to cross it, he explained.  “We had the streets backed up a mile long.”  And unmanned trucks were stuck inside the warehouse lots.

Backed by the area Teamsters Joint Council 42, which sent trucks and logistical support, some drivers continued their walkout through 4 p.m. the next day, Tate adds.  Teamsters from Seattle, L.A. and even New Jersey joined the truckers who walked out.  And, off truck firm response to a prior walkout in August, Tate doesn’t expect retaliation.

“In the end, all three of the” trucking firms that employ the drivers “are taking them back,” Tate said.  “They were even calling us, asking when the drivers are going to come back to work.  We’ll continue this until we’re able to organize” the port drivers.

The truckers’ walkout wasn’t the only action against Wal-Mart on Nov. 18.  That day, NLRB General Counsel Richard Griffin, its top enforcement officer, filed labor law-breaking charges against the Arkansas-based monster.  His charges are based on Wal- Mart’s retaliation against 117 workers for their “day of action’ last Nov. 22 against its low wages and impossible working conditions, and for leading a later march on its stockholders’ meeting in Bentonville, Ark., this year.

NLRB’s top charge is that a leading company official, David Tower, unlawfully threatened, on national television, that Wal-Mart workers who protested or engaged in those 1-day strikes would suffer reprisals.  Wal-Mart repeated those threats to workers in stores in California and Texas.  It has since fired the workers’ leaders nationwide.

Griffin also said that “Wal-Mart stores in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Washington unlawfully threatened, disciplined, and/or terminated employees for having engaged in legally protected strikes and protests.”

And Wal-Mart stores in California, Florida, Missouri and Texas unlawfully threatened, disciplined, fired or spied on workers “in anticipation of or in response to employees’ other protected concerted activities,” Griffin reported.  He dismissed two other labor law-breaking charges against Wal-Mart.

All this precedes “Black Friday,” the busiest and most-chaotic day of the holiday shopping season.  Last year, Wal-Mart workers, who are not organized by any union, but who have organized themselves into OurWalmart to campaign for better wages and working conditions and respect on the job, used “Black Friday” as a high point in their nationwide campaign of 1-day walkouts and picketing.

This year, Wal-Mart workers and their allies plan a similar cascade of 1-day walkouts and picketing of Wal-Mart stores and supercenters coast to coast, with the aid of groups ranging from Jobs With Justice and the AFL-CIO to the Corporate Action Network.  And Wal-Mart workers in Chicago and Seattle staged 1-day walkouts earlier this month to protest the firm’s labor law-breaking last year, the network reported.

Besides pay and working conditions, the L.A. port truckers also protested their “misclassification” by the firms as “independent contractors.”  They have no labor law rights and can’t be organized.  Each trucker must pay for Social Security, Medicare, workers’ comp and other taxes as well as their tires, gas and insurance.

But the truckers say they’re really under the companies’ control and thus should be “employees,” protected by labor law and not liable for the other payments.

Unions strongly support the truckers and the Wal-Mart workers.  Griffin’s announcement “confirms what Wal-Mart workers have long known: The company is illegally trying to silence employees who speak out for better jobs,” Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs With Justice/American Rights at Work, told a conference call.

Workers at two Southern California warehouses – whose firms store goods for Wal-Mart – also walked out with the drivers, Teamsters headquarters in D.C. reported.

Pacer International and American Logistics own the warehouses, in Carson, Calif.  American was one of the three firms that saw its port drivers walk out.

Warehouse Workers United said the warehouse workers walked due to dangerous working conditions.  They are ordered to clean up “a mysterious oil-like substance” and all the workers – male and female — must share a single bathroom at each warehouse.

The lighting in each is so feeble that workers must use their cell phones to illuminate dark shipping containers, Warehouse Workers United said.  The California warehouse workers also filed complaints on Nov. 18 against their employers, who are Wal-Mart contractors, with California’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“We deserve a safe work place where we are treated with dignity and respect,” Susan Gutierrez, a warehouse worker at American Logistics, told the Teamsters.

-PAI