Editor's note: Miriam Garcia is a proud mother of three. Her children, ages 14, 11 and 9, bring her great joy and she is in awe of their intelligence and their bright future. Her youngest son is in the GATE program. A couple of years ago she got involved with a parent organization to preserve transportation for school children. Her efforts were successful and bus services were extended for an extra year. Through that experience she learned the skills needed to affect change.
Miriam has worked as a labeler/packer at the Olivet International warehouse in Mira Loma, California for the last two years. She is paid $8 an hour and usually is only given three days of work per week. She says that because the job market is so tight in the Inland Empire she keeps the job out of necessity. To make ends meet she also sells beauty products. Miriam lives in Riverside and carpools to work with another coworker.
In her own words:
Inside the warehouse we are told to work faster, to keep quiet and managers watch our every move. They punish us if we make any mistakes, but they also punish us if we ask any questions. They don’t treat us like humans. They change our schedules when they feel like it, which for me is very difficult because I have children.
One of the most humiliating aspects of the job is that there is only one bathroom for more than 100 women. They are two additional bathrooms, but they are closed because the managers say they are too far away from the shop floor. That means that there is always a line for the bathroom. The supervisors don’t like it when we use the bathroom and recently they installed a camera outside of the bathrooms to monitor us.
We work with a lot of fear and surrounded by many different dangers, but if we say anything or complain in any way, very often we will have our hours cut. The boxes of merchandise are stacked very high inside the warehouse. More than once a week the stacks of boxes fall. Two times I have had to run out the way of the falling boxes. It is frightful – at any moment they could fall.
The managers do not exhibit any respect for employees. They change the gas tanks for the forklifts inside, which produces a lot of fumes and makes me nearly vomit. They should do that outside, but they don’t. Sometimes I work as a lumper, unloading and loading heavy boxes. To do that I spend a lot of time in complete darkness inside the metal containers. Forklifts drop off loads of boxes at the front of the container. One time a woman was trapped inside the container in the dark because a mountain of boxes blocked the front of the container. It is common for the emergency exits to be blocked by pallets and boxes too.
I have worked for other staffing agencies at other warehouses and I have never experienced a job this bad. We all have families to support so we are taking a risk by speaking out, but it is something that we have to do. I am not an animal. I treat everyone with respect, but we do not receive that respect in return.
When I look around most of the labels say “Walmart.” Walmart is the biggest client by far. We move a lot of suitcases that end up inside Walmart stores. I know that Walmart is the largest company in the world. We are using our bodies – our hands, arms, back and necks – to move its goods, but we are treated like animals. We have to speak up. We have to do something. I want my coworkers who are quiet to open their eyes and understand their rights because what we are experiencing is not right.
On May 23rd, Miriam and more than two dozen of her co-workers made a detailed complaint with Cal/OSHA, citing blocked fire exits, frequent collapses of heavy boxes stacked 30 feet high and lack of adequate drinking water, and called on the state of California to intervene to improve working conditions. For the latest updates, visit http://www.warehouseworkersunited.org.