Chicago — The Warehouse Workers for Justice, Mars Workers for Justice, the Foodchain Workers Alliance and the HEAL Alliance are organizing a rally at Mars Wrigley headquarters on Oct. 27. It will be part of a Halloween week of actions protesting the candy company’s retaliation against warehouse workers in Joliet, Ill., for sounding the alarm on the lack of COVID-19 safety precautions.
Mars Wrigley is the most profitable candy manufacturer in the world, producing a variety of confectionaries such as chocolate bars, chewing gum and hard candies. With an estimated net worth of $90 billion, the Mars family is “America’s third-wealthiest family ‘dynasty.’” (Business Insider, Mar. 27, 2019)
Even with the pandemic, the industry has been thriving this Halloween season. But as with other essential workers, those who pack and load the candies for the company fear for their safety and the safety of their families.
One of the key distribution hubs for Mars’ U.S. operations is a 1.4 million-square-foot warehouse in Joliet located in Centerpoint, the largest inland port in North America. Two third-party logistics companies, DHL and XPO, run the warehouse, which is staffed by at least four staffing agencies.
Broader struggle of warehouse workers
In July, several COVID-19 cases were reported in the warehouse. Over 100 workers responded by delivering a petition addressed to Mars Wrigley, DHL and XPO. The petition called for hazard pay and increased safety measures to protect them from COVID-19 in the workplace. Their demands included: paid sick leave, essential personal protective equipment (PPE), adequate and regular warehouse sanitation and the elimination of the point system which prioritizes productivity over workers’ safety.
At least five of the workers who signed the petition have been fired under suspicious circumstances, including one worker who was fired as recently as this month. They have since filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging “retaliation for engaging in federally protected concerted activity.”
WWJ Emergency Food Supply Chain Organizer Tommy Carden told Workers World, “Although Mars can play the blame game and lay the blame on XPO and DHL, the fact is this is Mars candy we’re dealing with, and Mars Wrigley needs to stop hiding behind its contractors and fix the problem.
“Workers shouldn’t fear retaliation when they speak up on COVID conditions and concerns.” Carden continued, “What’s happening at Mars sends the wrong message to workers that if they speak up for safety, they will be fired.”
Citing the more than 20,000 Amazon employees, many of them warehouse workers, who have contracted COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, Carden said, “Mars Wrigley workers are joining a broader struggle of warehouse workers engaged in similar fights across the country who are speaking up and telling major companies like Mars Wrigley, Amazon and Walmart that they cannot put profits and speed above the health and safety of the workers who make their distribution possible during a global pandemic.”
Founded in 2009, WWJ “fights for good, stable, living-wage jobs in Chicago’s massive logistics and transportation industry,” according to their website. “We educate workers on their rights, help workers enforce their rights and fight for public and private policies that promote full-time work with respect and fair wages in our region’s warehouses and distribution centers.” (warehouseworkersforjustice.org)
Rehire workers with back pay
WWJ will rally and hold a press conference on Oct. 27 at Mars Global Headquarters on Goose Island in Chicago. Participants are encouraged to wear Halloween costumes and bring Mars candy, which will be “re-delivered” to the company along with a public petition to Mars Wrigley Global President Andrew Clarke containing hundreds of signatures supporting the campaign.
Carden said they expect the support for the workers to grow over the coming days.
“First and foremost, the workers who were retaliated against and were fired need to be reinstated with back pay,” Carden said. “We also want Mars Wrigley, DHL, XPO, temp agencies and other subcontractors to meet the demands of workers. We want to make sure these workers are heard and they have a voice, and if they have a concern in the workplace they are listened to.”
A DHL spokesperson denied the allegations of unfair labor practices and refused to comment on the firing of warehouse workers. “DHL Supply Chain has prioritized employee health and safety throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” the spokesperson told Workers World.
“In our efforts to ensure business continuity for our customers and the flow of essential goods to communities across the U.S., we have deployed a range of safety measures and protocols, such as social distancing, alternate shifts, deep cleaning of facilities, mandatory temperature-taking and face coverings and the supply of protective equipment and hygiene and sanitary products.”
When asked for comment, Carden said, “DHL’s response shows that its true motivation here is ‘business continuity,’ not the well-being of its workers and their families. Although DHL claims there has been a single digit number of cases at the Joliet warehouse, workers tell us the actual numbers are higher. While it is nice to hear DHL saying that employee health is a priority, actions speak louder than words.”
For more information and updates on the rally, visit fb.me/e/cHNXhFw2r or sign the petition: actionnetwork.org/petitions/covid-19-protection-for-candy-workers-during-halloween-season-is-essential?source=direct_link&