“I gotta get down to the Cumberland mine.
That’s where I mainly spend my time…
I make good money, five dollars a day.
If I made any more I might move away.”
Seventeen people were arrested in Will County, Illinois yesterday. They were part of an estimated 600 demonstrators, protesting conditions in Wal-Mart warehouses. Those arrested were peacefully demonstrating and charged with unlawful entry. They offered no resistance to the officers.
The protesters marched to Logistic Park Chicago, accessible by the nation’s largest inland port. They found themselves met by local and county police as well as the Mobile Field Force, an arm of the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System (ILEAS) which, according to their website is:
designed to provide rapid, organized and disciplined response to civil disorder, crowd control or other tactical situations involving the distribution of pharmaceuticals from the National Strategic Stockpile, weapons of mass destruction incidents as well as other more conventional events.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times:
“The police team, which one onlooker said resembled a paramilitary group, used a bullhorn to ask the group to disperse or risk arrest and “chemical or less lethal munitions being deployed.”
You can hear that threat, and watch the arrests being made here:
As you can see, the 17 protestors went along willingly. They obviously went in with the full intention of being arrested. It’s also clear they are not dock workers, but community leaders; labor reps and clergy. They certainly didn’t need a squadron of special officers whose, “Tactics used are based on small squad tactics developed by the Office of Domestic Preparedness as well as the more traditional Mobile Field Force tactics.”
And rest assured, they have good reason to demonstrate. The workers employer is Roadlink Workforce Solutions, which is in turn contracted by Schneider Logistics, a firm Wal-Mart employs to run its warehouse. Fans of the Godfather movies, will recognize the layers of management levels; its how bosses insulate themselves from accountability for the actions of their underlings. Among the accusations in pending lawsuits against Roadlink Workforce Solutions is non-payment of wages and overtime, and paying less than the minimum wage.
Workers arrive for shifts, not knowing if they’ll work two hours or sixteen; conditions are unsafe and turnover is high, as witnessed by current and former workers:
“I worked for Roadlink Workforce Solutions in the Wal-Mart warehouse,” worker Vincent Hoffmann explained in a press release. “They had us working 10 or more hours a day lifting heavy boxes, but then didn’t pay me the overtime that I had worked so hard for. It’s hard enough trying to make ends meet and then they cheat us out of what we earned.”
Organizers say the workers are routinely forced to lift boxes weighing 250 pounds or more, and that heat topping 100 degrees in the summer is common in the facility and trucks.
Striker Mike Compton explained the conditions that sparked the walkout to the crowd:
I’ve witnessed one of our employees get his leg cut on a T-rack–it’s a big jagged metal pallet skid. We’ve worked with trucks that have been fumigated–it says so in the trailer–and you have to ask six, seven times to get a face mask. When we ask for shin guards, we don’t get them. The trucks are very dusty. They’re dirty, they’re dark–one little light. [It's] 120 degrees in those trucks a lot of times. The turnover rate is so bad [that] if you’ve been there two months, you’re a veteran…
All they do is push us to work harder, work harder, work harder, with no regard for our safety.
Lest anyone make the claim that Wal-Mart and their distributorships have the right to conduct business how they wish, let me make the following points:
- They didn’t build it. Logistics Park Chicago was built using over $150 million dollars in public funds. As “A designated foreign trade zone, companies who ship there pay discounted duty fees. Retailers and consumer products manufacturers, such as Wal-Mart and Bissell, have set up import processing warehouses within the intermodal complex.” We built it, and we provide them with “incentives” (entitlements” to ply their trade there.
- Because of the low wages and lack of benefits provided (when they are provided), we further subsidize Wal-Mart and other big-box behemoths to distribute goods they buy from outside the U.S. manufacturing base. Which, is nearly all of it.
- Because 17 people sat down in the street leading to their warehouses, Illinois taxpayers footed the bill on a city, county and state level. Wal-Marts employees and customers paid the taxes, that paid for that.
Which is as good a departure point as any for this discussion: There are hundreds of ways that Wal-Mart and other giant discount stores game the system. Consumers look at their prices and, flock to them. But Americans pay in advance, and dearly, for Wal-Mart products. We pay in jobs lost, living wages denied, incentives and tax-breaks, and less tangibly, but more importantly; human dignity.
And the people who work for them, are like the people who buy from them. They hate, but they don’t believe they can afford not to.