On the picket line

Walmart warehouse workers win raises, benefits

After an unrelenting two-year struggle, the 75 workers at the Walmart warehouse in Mira Loma, Calif., won a pay increase in mid-August from $8.50 an hour to $13.50 (a whopping 60 percent increase), health insurance, and paid sick days and vacations. How did these mostly immigrant, officially unorganized workers do it? By taking united actions — strikes, protests and lawsuits — as though they were in a union. Aided by Warehouse Workers United, which is backed by Change to Win, these workers filed a lawsuit two years ago against Schneider Logistics, charging wage theft amounting to millions in unpaid wages. Walmart had hired Schneider to run its huge warehouse (the size of 26 football fields), and Schneider in turn subcontracted with temp agencies to hire the workers. But all those maneuvers to cheat the workers changed after the lawsuit was filed and the federal judge hearing the case added Walmart as a defendant. That exposed Walmart’s role in hiring layers of contractors as a way to duck legal responsibility for the super-abusive working conditions. Now the workers are no longer temps, but direct employees of Schneider, and Walmart is legally named as an employer as well. Though union recognition is still to come, the workers’ united, persistent actions exposing capitalist greed and exploitation prove, once again, that the only way to win rights is to fight back. (In These Times, Aug. 21, and laborforumwrfg.podomatic.com, a radio interview by Workers World correspondent Dianne Mathiowetz)

California port truck drivers stage one-day strike

Truck drivers at the Port of Long Beach went on strike Aug. 26 because their employer, Green Fleet Systems, had been thwarting their right to unionize. The 24-hour strike was followed by a rally the next day with labor leaders and elected officials. The drivers say Green Fleet has hired union busters to intimidate drivers seeking to join Teamsters Local 848. In a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board in March, the Teamsters Port Division reported that a Green Fleet supervisor asked a driver to sign an anti-union petition in exchange for promises of better pay and benefits if the workers didn’t join the union. The strike was called as part of week-long actions by low-wage workers, which culminated in the Aug. 29 national strike of workers at fast-food restaurants in 60 cities. (latimes.com, Aug. 26)

Protesting Trans-Pacific Partnership

Hundreds of labor, fair trade, environmental and community activists marched through downtown Minneapolis on Aug. 20 to protest the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade deal that could jeopardize U.S. jobs, wages, consumer safety, health care and environmental standards. The U.S. and 11 other countries bordering the Pacific Ocean met that week to discuss what could be the largest trade agreement in U.S. history. But the only people at the negotiating table were, not surprisingly, corporate lobbyists and government officials — not groups fighting for workers, public health, environmental regulations and consumer protections. While the draft of the agreement has not been made public, leaked documents reveal proposals that would grant multinational corporations new political powers, ration lifesaving medicines, extend restrictive intellectual property laws and more. En route to the rally, protesters stopped outside U.S. Bank and Verizon facilities — two of the many corporate “trade advisors” involved in the talks — to expose their avaricious role in the TPP. (mnaflcio.org, Aug. 21)

Maine Lobstering Union forms

Let’s welcome a new frontier in labor organizing: the Maine Lobstering Union. “It was time,” said lobster worker Magnus Lane, who called together dozens of these workers from all over Maine to formally establish a union, pay union dues and nominate officers in Bangor on Aug. 11. “I’ve been talking this talk for a long time, but the timing of what happened last year, and the excuses we got for our terrible prices were too much for me.” Fellow worker Erick Blackwood added, “Not only prices were a problem, but everything going on in Augusta [the state capital of Maine] too. We had rules and regulations shoved down our throats without even knowing about them. Not anymore though. We’re in the conversation now.” (blog.aflcio.org, Aug. 19)