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Workers at a Walmart-contracted warehouse in Mira Loma, California, were planning a one-day strike on Thursday in response to ongoing unsafe working conditions and retaliation against their organizing to change those conditions. But when that announcement was met with still more retaliation against worker activists, the strike was moved up to Wednesday.
The workers, who do not have a recognized union, have been organizing to improve working conditions and wages (or at least to stop wage theft). In response, they've faced retaliation and firings, both of which are illegal as responses to concerted action by workers. While an October wave of strikes at first didn't draw as much retaliation as previous worker organizing, retaliation soon resumed, presumably as public attention died down. So the workers are beginning another round:
“Hopefully it will make a dent in their production…” said Raymond Castillo, “and it gets their attention, that we’re not playing around.” Castillo and other Mira Loma workers struck in September, and voted Sunday to do it again on Thursday. According to Castillo, workers started organizing because of unsafe and unsanitary conditions: crooked ramps caused serious injuries; workers’ drinking water came from a hose. The organizing brought retaliation, which inspired a strike, which drew more punishment. “Since we’ve all been retaliated against,” said Castillo, “it was a pretty easy decision for all of us to go back on strike.”
Warehouse workers have been waging a fiercer organizing campaign than retail workers in recent years, and have had relatively greater success; Josh Eidelson suggests that this is both because the warehouse workers aren't Walmart employees on paper, working directly for staffing agencies and warehouse companies that contract with Walmart and offer it plausible deniability, and because warehouse workers have much greater ability to disrupt the company's all-important supply chain:
Consider that according to organizers, 70 percent of Walmart’s imported product travels through the Elwood [Illinois] distribution center, and it’s easy to imagine why, of all of Walmart’s recent strikers, the thirty-eight who work there would be first to win their demands.
This week's strike, and a rally planned for Thursday, are potentially just a prelude to a bigger Black Friday effort as Walmart opens its stores ever-earlier on Thanksgiving night, forcing workers to miss the holiday with their families if they want to keep their jobs. But by Black Friday, goods are already in the stores and warehouse workers don't have the leverage they have right now; the effort at disruption that day will rest on retail workers and allies.