On August 24th, warehouse worker Santos Castaneda spoke publicly of workplace temperatures that exceeded 110 degrees, lack of indoor ventilation and other health abuses rampant at NFI Industries, a national logistics facility subcontracted by national retailers like Walmart. Five minutes later, Castaneda was fired.
According to Castaneda, a 24-year old Salvadorian man who has worked for the firm in Chino for three years:
I was fired moments after speaking out at a rally urging NFI Industries to correct workplace abuses.
After news of health and safety violations surfaced, NFI workers reported receiving veiled threats of calls to immigration, job loss, assignment changes and employers telling workers to ostracize leaders. Castaneda was one of three workers at NFI who filed Cal/OSHA complaints reporting the violations in July.
News of Castaneda’s wrongful firing sparked delegations of labor advocates and more than 3,300 online supporters who signed a petition demanding NFI Industries rehire Castaneda and cease retaliatory tactics. On August 30th, Castaneda was rehired and returned to work.
I want to send a message to warehouse workers that we will be supported when we have the courage to speak up.
During a federally-funded survey that interviewed Inland Empire warehouse workers, some of the worst and most frequent hazards and violations were reported by workers at NFI Industries in Chino. The survey, conducted by UCLA and Warehouse Workers United, revealed cases of dismembered limbs, back injuries, repetitive stress syndrome, chronic headaches and nosebleeds from chemical exposure and extreme temperatures as high as 120 degrees.
The epicenter of the logistics center is in the Inland Empire where 118,000 warehouse workers provide services that directly benefit suppliers, manufactures and national retailer such as Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Lowe's, K-Mart and Sears. But warehouse workers remain in the shadows of giant retailers as a subcontracted workforce, exposed to abuses and forced to stay silent for fear of retaliation.
Marta Medina, an NFI warehouse worker for 5 years and another complainant on the Cal/OSHA filing:
I'm speaking out because I want the conditions to improve for workers who come after me. I'm scared I will lose my job, but I can't stay silent.
Despite Castaneda’s rehiring, the struggle continues. On August 31st, an NFI warehouse worker was hospitalized and diagnosed with heat stroke after being exposed to extreme temperatures while working inside the facility. That day, he repeatedly complained to management about the temperature inside the warehouse and let his manager know he was feeling very ill and was in need of medical attention. He was offered no help from management, and was ultimately forced to leave for the day and find a way to get himself to the hospital to receive the care he so desperately needed.
Warehouse Workers United is monitoring the situation and is continuing the fight to make Inland Empire warehouses safe places to work. To learn more about warehouse workers, click here.