CHICAGO - After a Walmart warehouse in Elwood, Il. violated the "ethics" policy of the big box giant and deprived workers of pay they had earned, the employees sued for wage theft. Walmart, instead of pressing the contractor it hired to run the warehouse to pay its workers, promptly fired all 65 warehouse employees
Determined not to take it lying down, workers showed up Feb. 17 to fight back at a newly opened Walmart Express store here. And they brought with them a host of supporters from the public, including community, business, and political leaders.
After working a full shift Dec. 29, just four days after Christmas, 65 warehouse workers were hit with the news that they were fired, effective immediately.
The warehouse operator, Schneider Logistics, cancelled its contract with the temp agency Eclipse Staffing, after the workers filed a lawsuit against Walmart.
Warehouse Workers for Justice, a worker-led organization that has risen up in response to wage theft, and Chicago Neighborhoods First, a coalition of labor, community, and business leaders, stood in front of the West Loop Walmart, together with members of the United Food and Commercial Workers, to deliver an official complaint.
The demonstrators split into two groups: some entered the store where they handed out leaflets to customers inside while others threw up a picket line outside. Their cries of "Walmart, shame on you" rung out as they paraded in front of the new, well-appointed showcase store.
"We were not getting paid what we were promised when we were hired," said worker Leticia Rodriguez. "We were fired without notice, so we couldn't plan ahead." That added insult to injury, and as a result, she said, she and other workers had nowhere to turn. "We can't make ends meet now," she said.
Worker Roberto Gutierrez remarked that the group's reasons for protesting Walmart were more than justified. "I was fired with a check that said '$4.62 an hour.' It also said that I only worked 12 and a half hours. I worked at least 28.
"If I'm working my ass off, I want to be able to feed somebody for that! It's like I can't win," he concluded with exasperation. "But we will all win," he added, to the tumultuous applause of those standing around him.
Finally, Rudy Lozano, currently running for State Rep. for the 21st District of Illinois, appeared and declared his support for the protesters. "I'm here today to support the workers at Walmart," he said. "Growing up, I was always taught that an injury to one is an injury to all. As workers, we deserve to be treated with dignity and fairness. In these times, we need strong leadership. We need our unions."
Workers feel that Walmart's anti-union stance is a constant and strong contributor to the inhumane conditions they have experienced.
After a few of the fired workers emerged from within the Walmart Express, one of them, named Eric, declared, "We just let them know that we filed a complaint with them to follow the lawsuit we filed weeks ago. They told us to call their media relations person. Well, we called...and got a recording.
"The cops came and said we had to leave or we'd be arrested. We said - don't arrest us. Go to Elwood and arrest those responsible" for this injustice. And if those responsible aren't held accountable, he noted, "We're gonna be right back here real soon."
Photo: Blake Deppe/PW