Employees and advocates of Warehouse Workers United (WWU), a group aiming to unionize warehouse workers in the Inland Empire, spoke at Pitzer on Monday about the injustices they suffer at the workplace and their latest legal efforts against their employers.
Workers For Justice (WFJ) leader Christian Torres also spoke on the similarities between the warehouse workers’ plight and the Pomona College dining workers’ struggle for unionization.
A panel of three warehouse workers plus Torres, who was fired from Pomona after the school’s controversial December document checks, and Sheheryar Kaoosji, Media Contact for WWU, spoke to a group of students at Benson Auditorium. Kaoosji started the discussion with a presentation on the global retail goods distribution system and how it inherently creates injustice for workers at the bottom.
Warehouses in the Inland Empire, which take advantage of the large amount of U.S. imports that come in through Southern California, are part of the global distribution chain for giant retailers such as Walmart, Target and Home Depot. Retailers contract logistics companies to run warehouses and those logistics companies turn around and sub-contract temporary staffing companies to provide labor.
Workers can be easily fired by the logistics companies simply by ending the contract with the staffing agency, which is exactly what happened to workers at a Walmart warehouse in Riverside county after they filed a class action suit last fall. The workers were notified that their jobs would end Feb. 24, following $600,000 in fines levied on the warehouse by the California labor department.
José Martinez, one of those workers, said that the Feb. 24 firings come in retaliation for making the complaint to the state.
“Because of this fine, the warehouse fired [us] and the last day [we]’ll be working will be the 24th of February,” he said, speaking in Spanish through an interpreter. “[We]’re really asking for the support of the community in order to, one, have [our] jobs back but also to work under dignified conditions and wages.”
Torres showed the crowd WFJ’s most recent video, entitled “Pomona Fires Latino Workers,” which features speeches by fired workers and an analysis of “immigration hysteria” by Peter Dreier, Professor of Politics at Occidental College, as well as allusions to the recent Occupy movement and the divide between the “one percent” and the “99 percent.”
“When I hear these guys from Warehouse Workers, I feel like there’s a lot of work to do,” Torres said. “The companies pick on us because we’re immigrants, we’re desperate for jobs. They go, ‘Quiet. If not, the door is open.'”