Warehouse Workers United is an organization committed to improving the quality of life and jobs for warehouse workers in Southern California’s Inland Empire.
Who are warehouse workers?
Hundreds of millions of tons of goods enter the United States every year through our nation’s busiest ports in Long Beach and Los Angeles. Containers are then trucked through the Los Angeles basin to the Inland Empire, a region encompassing San Bernardino and Riverside counties, where roughly 85,000 warehouse workers, mostly Latino, unpack and reload items onto trucks destined for major retailers like Walmart. The majority of workers are hired through temp agencies, paid low wages, receive no benefits, and have no job security.
Warehouse workers routinely lift heavy boxes – up to 200-pounds – from shipping containers on a piece rate system or for minimum wage for hours and days on end – in some cases 362 days a year. Workers encounter inhumane work speeds, moving up to 450 boxes per hour by hand, pollutants, high temperatures, little ventilation and intense retaliation if they complain about the conditions. Serious injuries on the job are common.
Warehouse Workers United was started in 2009 and immediately began working closely with community groups in San Bernardino and Riverside counties in Southern California including CLUE-CA and CCAEJ as well as national coalitions and groups like the UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program, Council on Occupational Health and Safety, the Food Chain Workers Alliance, and National Day Labor Organizing Network. WWU is supported by Change to Win, a labor coalition of 5 million workers in North America.
A courageous group of warehouse workers has led the charge to improve warehouse jobs in the face of many obstacles. In 2011 warehouse workers participated in a comprehensive health and safety certification course and then surveyed their peers on occupational hazards in the warehousing industry. The report, Shattered Dreams and Broken Bodies, written by the UCLA Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program is the result of the survey. It shows that the majority of workers have experienced and witnessed workplace injuries and illnesses in warehouses, and that they are systematically discouraged from reporting hazards or injuries.
In October 2011 California Labor Commissioner Julie Su’s office investigated the largest Walmart warehouse in the region, run by Schneider Logistics, and cited two staffing agencies for more than $1 million in violations. In October, workers filed a lawsuit in federal court against three Walmart contractors and subcontractors, alleging millions of dollars in stolen wages over the past 10 years. Since then a federal judge has issued several orders and injunctions in favor of the workers, including a temporary restraining order against a mass firing of workers who had filed the lawsuit.
In January 2012, California Division of Occupational Safety and Health issued $256,445 in citations for more than 60 violations found during an inspection of warehouses in Chino, California, including excessive heat, dangerous forklifts and other machinery, unsafe stacking of boxes, and lack of health and safety training.
In 2011, warehouse workers and community advocates founded the Warehouse Workers Resource Center. The purpose of the Center is to provide a lasting, rooted community resource to allow warehouse workers and their families to access services in a region where working-class Latino communities are underserved. The WWRC runs programs that connect workers who have been victims of unsafe conditions in their workplace, wage theft, or discrimination with service providers. It hosts English as a Second Language programs, civic engagement activity, and Know Your Rights workshops for immigrant workers. In the future it plans to expand to offer educational and career training services.
Why Southern California?
Major retailers like Walmart use the Inland Empire, to move their goods to market on the West Coast. The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles combined are our nation’s busiest and the majority of goods that enter the U.S. from Asia come through these two ports. The Inland Empire is home to the largest concentration of warehouse space on the planet.
Goods are moved from the port along major arteries that run through Los Angeles County like the 10, 210, 710, 60 and 605 freeways to the Inland Empire where warehouse workers unpack and reload items onto trucks and rail containers – a critical link in a supply chain that moves goods from where they are produced to the shelves of retail stores. Workers and communities in Southern California endure dangerous conditions, low wages, unstable work, congestion and pollution as a direct result of this system.
We believe that by working together, we can make warehouse jobs good jobs. We are dedicated to improving working conditions and ensuring that major retailers like Walmart and its subcontractors follow the law and treat workers with respect. We stand for good jobs with decent wages, access to healthcare and other basic rights and benefits including a workplace free of intimidation and retaliation.