On the picket line

Calif. Walmart workers win back millions

Nearly 600 workers at a Walmart warehouse in California have been ­awarded $4.7 million in compensation for wage theft by a federal judge on Dec. 16. The workers, many of whom are Mexican immigrants, worked through the contractor Schneider Logistics to move Walmart goods in a facility partly owned by Walmart. Supported since 2012 by Warehouse Workers United, a project of the Change to Win union federation, the workers risked their jobs and their livelihoods “to ­expose a deep pattern of abuse and fraud,” noted WWU Director Guadalupe Palma in a Dec. 16 email to Salon. According to WWU, an expert who reviewed records of 216,281 shifts found that supervisors reduced the workers’ time cards in 5.95 percent of shifts. Lead plaintiff Franklin Quezada testified that he was “often forced by my supervisors at the end of my shifts to sign forms saying I voluntarily waived my right to my meal breaks.” But that wasn’t voluntary “since I was being forced to sign.” A parallel suit against Schneider, but also naming Walmart as a defendant, is pending. Also pending is a complaint filed by the National Labor Relations Board in February alleging that Schneider and three other contractors illegally punished and threatened warehouse workers to discourage labor activism at a Walmart facility in Illinois.

Sign petition to labor board: Enforce the law!

More than 5,000 workers at California’s Gerawan Farming, one of the biggest U.S. fruit growers, voted months ago to be represented by the United Farm Workers. But the company continues to fight the workers’ right to unionize. The state’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board ordered the firm to engage in mandatory mediation last April, leading to a three-year contract with raises — from $10 an hour to $11.75 by the last year of the contract — four holidays, bonuses and worker protections. The ALRB approved the mediator’s contract in November. By law, it should immediately be certified as a contract. But Gerawan responded with a decertification campaign. What’s needed is for the ALRB to enforce the law and immediately certify the contract. You can help by signing a UFW petition at ufw.org demanding that the ALRB enforce the law.

D.C. grocery workers reject concessions and win

After the contract of Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 expired on Oct. 31 and negotiations were extended into November, the 17,000 grocery workers at Giant and Safeway stores in the greater District of Columbia area took the offensive. They asked customers to support their demands for a decent contract without concessions that the bosses were demanding. Shoppers, all working and oppressed people, responded by signing thousands of cards supporting the workers’ demands. That proved to be Local 400’s winning strategy. “We told the companies we are strong. We told them we are ready to fight. And that is what made the difference,” Maria Gomez, a member of the bargaining advisory committee, told Union City, the daily e-newsletter of the Metro Washington Council AFL-CIO. Local 400 President Mark P. Federici noted, “This is one of the best retail food contracts in the country,” with current health care and pension benefits paid in full through the length of the contract. Another distinction is that it provides “all of its economic benefits in the form of hourly wage increases rather than a one-time bonus.” Congratulations, ­Local 400. You’ve provided a valuable lesson that reaching out for community support helps win better contracts.

Food workers get feds to the table

After a series of one-day strikes and other demonstrations beginning last spring, about 220 food service workers at two Smithsonian museums in the D.C. will be represented in contract negotiations by UNITE HERE Local 23. Given that about 2 million low-wage workers are hired by federal contractors and paid poverty wages — in violation of federal law — 220 unionized workers will be a drop in the bucket. But it’s a tremendous breakthrough in the movement for higher wages that could affect all food service workers nationwide. Negotiations with the Compass Group, which operates restaurants at the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of American History, begin in January. Stay tuned. (Union City, Dec. 18)