Since 2009, a Change to Win campaign, Warehouse Workers United, has been running attacks on employers in California’s “Inland Empire.” WWU is a joint venture of SEIU, UFCW, and the Teamsters. This week, Labor Notes gives us a glimpse into how corporate campaigns are built and, more importantly, why certain employers and not others are in the crosshairs.
In what is certainly no coincidence, the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement has been investigating cases of wage theft by employers who just happen to employ WWU activists. The campaign has also solicited workers into class-action lawsuits against those same employers to collect “stolen” wages. (Suits are based on the charge that workers paid by the piece were forced to wait for shipments and so should have been paid on the clock.)
WWU finds willing litigants by partnering with community groups, principally immigrant rights groups, to help build trust in the union’s campaign. However the real target isn’t the besieged temp agency or the logistic firm that runs the targeted warehouses and the real goal isn’t improving working conditions for their employees. The real target is Wal-Mart and other large retailers and the real goal is to disrupt the flow of goods from west coast ports to Wal-Mart stores.
Labor Notes writes, “WWU has been organizing since 2009 in the Inland Empire, where the bottom quarter of workers make less than $8.74 an hour. The end goal is to force Wal-Mart and other major retailers to take responsibility for their supply chains and to turn warehouse jobs into decent jobs: full-time, with a living wage and freedom to join a union.”
WWU has been the driving force behind over a million dollars in fines being levied against Inland Empire employers in just the past year. And pressure on employers is mounting with investigations now coming from OSHA, as well as California Labor Standards.