Warehouse Workers Seek Investigation Into High Injury Rates

Over the last several months, warehouse workers have drawn attention to serious problems with their working conditions and subsequent retaliation against those who have spoken up.

Warehouse work is strenuous and hard on the body. For hours on end, workers lift heavy boxes in the same pattern as they load and unload shipping containers and trailers. Workers are asked to do the humanly impossible or risk losing their jobs every day. It is more common to meet a warehouse worker who has been injured than one who is healthy.

This week, workers took action to address serious injuries associated with this repetitive motion. Warehouse Workers United on behalf of workers filed a complaint with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health Monday Sept. 24 detailing a high rate of injury associated with unreasonable quotas. They are seeking an immediate investigation of the facility.

It’s the latest move in workers’ attempts to improve warehousing jobs in the Inland Empire; Southern California’s San Bernardino and Riverside counties just east of Los Angeles.

Last week, we concluded a 50-mile, six-day pilgrimage for safe jobs from the Inland Empire to Los Angeles City Hall. During the WalMarch, workers and their supporters called on Walmart to take responsibility for working conditions in the warehouses on which it relies. As the largest retailer in the world, Walmart effectively dictates the standards of operation in the logistics and distribution industry, which impacts the lives of 85,000 warehouse workers in Southern California.

The complaint, filed against employers Walmart, NFI, and staffing agencies Warestaff and Select, documents repetitive lifting at extreme rates that have led to back injuries of multiple warehouse workers within the last year at an NFI warehouse in Mira Loma, California dedicated to moving Walmart goods.

According to the complaint:

The workers who do this work are required to perform at an extreme rate under the pressure of managers who aggressively pressure workers to meet quotas with threats, harassment and, eventually, firing of less productive workers.

Workers are required to work at an extremely fast pace. For example, one worker could move boxes between 10 and 100 pounds as many as 2,000 times each 8-hour shift.

Jose Gonzalez, whose medical records pertaining to his back injury are part of the complaint filed with Cal/OSHA, is 22 and fit, until he started working in a warehouse. He told me

I am young and I was healthy until the pace inside the warehouse wore me out and used me up. Now it is tough for me to walk and stand.

The Department of Occupational Health and Safety requires employers like NFI, Walmart and Warestaff to take preventive action whenever there have been at least two similar injuries of workers who hold the same position within one year. Documents provided by Warestaff, one of the staffing agencies that employs workers at the NFI warehouse, record a number of injuries in the last year that are commonly caused by repetitive motion.

It is separate from an earlier filing with Cal/OSHA that is still under investigation. The July 18 complaint documented instances when workers were discouraged and even prevented from reporting injuries formally. It also raised concerns about dangerous machinery, lack of training, inadequate access to clean drinking water and required pay for protective equipment.

Walmart’s contractors, including logistics firms Schneider and NFI, have been cited for breaking the law, including health and safety violations, wage and hour violations, and retaliation against workers who speak up. Walmart’s contractors are under investigation by a state agency for health and safety violations and workers have filed a federal lawsuit about stolen wages by Schneider, a Walmart contractor, and subcontracted staffing agencies. Walmart, to date, has ignored workers’ concerns.

UPDATE: Warehouse Workers United reports that a warehouse worker found a company checklist with Walmart’s logo on the shop floor that shows a lot of equipment is broken and even dangerous. The document is dated Aug. 8, but workers report that problems noted in the document still have not been fixed.

Here’s what Walmart spokesperson Dan Fogelman had to say:

Workers’ claims were ‘either unfounded, or if they are legitimate, have been addressed.’ (Los Angeles Times, Sep. 17)

Read the two-page document, and then send an email to Walmart and NFI, the warehouse operator, and tell them they have been caught red-handed.