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Striking workers at a Mira Loma, California, Olivet International warehouse that supplies Walmart goods.
The workers at the Olivet International warehouse in Mira Loma, California, don't work directly for Walmart. But about 70 percent of the products the workers handle are destined for Walmart, so the workers say the retail giant should be taking some responsibility for the terrible working conditions that have led around 30 of them to start a two-day strike. Josh Eidelson reports that the strike, which is backed by Warehouse Workers United,
... comes two months after twenty-one Olivet warehouse employees filed a formal complaint with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, alleging rampant safety violations: emergency exits blocked by boxes and merchandise; forklift brakes, seatbelts and horns that don’t work; workers loading shipping containers in the dark; triple-stacked and unsecured boxes; lack of ventilation or adequate water amid intense heat; “a risk of workers being hit by forklifts” and workers “trapped inside trailers as they drive off.”
Similar conditions are shared by workers at other warehouses moving goods for Walmart, which is known to exert serious control over its contractors and suppliers. At least until it's time to shift the blame for problems that exist throughout the Walmart supply chain.

As much courage as it takes to go to work every day in conditions like that, knowing both the routine discomforts and dangers like heat and lack of water and the danger of serious injury, it may take more courage to fight back, knowing the likelihood of retaliation by management:

[Worker Miriam Garcia] said that workers’ repeated efforts to address issues with Olivet had proven a dead end: “For me, it took a lot of courage to go to managers with our concerns. And then we kept doing it, and every time, they ignored us.”

Following the May filing of the complaint—which included fifteen photos taken by workers—activists allege that Olivet responded with an intimidation campaign. “They’re watching us all the time,” said [worker Heidi] Baizabal. Workers charge that management has installed twenty-nine surveillance cameras and begun following activist-workers. They allege that the company has retaliated by cutting employees’ hours and implied that they could lose their jobs. And they say Olivet instituted new rules restricting health and safety discussions, and regular meetings to discourage organizing.

Working a low-wage job, with no extra money to fall back on if you're fired, and nonetheless organizing, stepping up and standing out and letting your boss know that the status quo is not good enough, not what you deserve—that is courage. And that courage and commitment is what will be needed to make change.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 09:12 AM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions and Daily Kos.

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