Walmart Warehouse Workers Declare Victory

Striking warehouse workers at Walmart’s distribution center near Joliet have won an agreement for an end to retaliation against employees protesting working conditions, and are returning to work with full pay for the three weeks they were out, Warehouse Workers for Justice reports.

“We forced the company to respect our rights,” said striker Ted Ledwa. “We showed that when workers are united, we can stand up to the biggest corporations in the world and win.”

Members of the Warehouse Workers Organizing Committee walked out September 15 to protest the firing by the Roadlink employment agency of a plaintiff in a new lawsuit – the sixth filed against Walmart subcontrators in Elwood, Illinois – charging wage theft. They won widespread support.

Last Monday, strikers and their supporters shut down the Elwood warehouse – Walmart’s largest distribution center on the continent – with hundreds rallying as clergy and community and labor leaders blocked the road. On Friday, strikers delivered a letter demanding an end to retaliation and improvement of conditions signed by 100,000 supporters to the Walmart store in Presidential Towers.

During the teachers strike, CTU members joined warehouse strikers in a march to the new Walmart in Chatham, noting support by the Walton Family Foundation for anti-union “school reform” groups like Stand For Children.

A new phase of labor challenges to Walmart seems to be unfolding. Last month a group of Walmart warehouse workers struck in Southern California, returning to week last week after their demands were met. Last week, employees of two Walmart stores in Southern California walked out, again in protest against retaliation.

Noted for its low wages, forcing many workers onto Medicaid and food stamps, Walmart has aggressively fought back unionization attempts for 50 years; at its warehouses, workers say, the company uses subcontractors to insulate itself from responsibility for abuses.

Now, by forming nonunion associations modeled on the workers’ center movement, Walmart workers seem to have found a strategy for advancing their interest and protecting their rights. In a period when union rights are under wide attack, it’s a development with dramatic potential.