Online shopping and in-store big box shopping alike are made possible by legions of warehouse workers, typically paid around $10 an hour or less, often working not for the big-name retailers they supply but for a complex web of subcontractors and temp agencies, and facing high turnover, low job security and injuries. But warehouse workers around the country are organizing and fighting back. Organizing doesn't always, or even usually, mean organizing into a union—the barriers to that are often too high. But workers are filing lawsuits and pushing the government to investigate unsafe working conditions, wage theft and more, and using protest and the media to draw attention to problems at well-known companies.
For instance, after months of scrutiny and protest drawing attention to reports of Amazon warehouses at which ambulances were kept stationed outside to treat workers inevitably collapsing from the summer heat, Amazon announced it is spending $52 million to air-condition its warehouses. Workers in those warehouses will still be worked unreasonably hard for unreasonably little money with poor job security, but air-conditioning should substantially reduce one hazard.
One set of warehouse workers is trying to join a union, though, strengthened by the fact that they are actually employed by a retailer and not by temp agencies. The overwhelmingly Latino workforce at a New Jersey Bed Bath & Beyond distribution center is moving toward a union representation vote:
Betania Valdez, who started work in the warehouse in 2008, a year after it opened, said workers sought out the UFCW to address low wages, favoritism in raises, rampant safety issues, and unaffordable and unattainable health care. [...]
In the New Jersey warehouse, Bed Bath and Beyond new hires start a quarter above minimum wage, at $7.50 an hour. After four years Valdez has seen her wage creep up to $8.87. She’s angry that she has no health insurance and just three paid sick days a year, as she and others struggle with respiratory problems she links to the perpetually dusty warehouse.
If the workers are successful, this would be the first unionized Bed Bath & Beyond facility as well as being a high-profile victory for workers in the warehousing industry more generally. Bed Bath & Beyond is carrying out an aggressive anti-union campaign within the warehouse.
- A Safeway worker who was suspended from his job after intervening when a pregnant customer was assaulted by her boyfriend has been reinstated. He was aided by community outcry and by his union, the United Food and Commercial Workers, challenging the suspension.
- Workers at a New York City Hot and Crusty location voted to form an independent union. The workers have also filed a lawsuit alleging overtime and minimum wage violations.
- A survey finds that 44 percent of nannies in the affluent, liberal Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope are not being paid overtime, which New York law requires.
- Struggling with high unemployment and finding little help in turning it around, a Green Party mayor is trying to promote worker-owned co-ops in her city of Richmond, California.
- Beyond May Day.
- Frontline and Pro Publica highlight the high workplace fatality rate among cell tower climbers and OSHA isn't very effective changing the situation, especially as the tower climbers are typically working for subcontractors of subcontractors, making it unclear who has responsibility for safety on a worksite.
- Speaking of workplace safety, Rich Products Corp.'s frozen food manufacturing center in Brunswick, Georgia, was cited for 23 safety violations, including slipping hazards and fall hazards. Twenty of the violations were classified as serious. Four U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health care centers were cited for 30 violations, 25 of them serious, including electrical hazards and exposure to contaminated needles. A New York asbestos removal contractor was cited for inadequate protection against asbestos. A wood pallet manufacturer in Texas was cited for 13 serious and three other-than-serious violations including amputation hazards.