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Wal-Mart’s low wages – from Bangladesh to Joliet

What kind of jobs would Wal-Mart bring to Chicago?  A “Workers Truth Tour” will bring together garment workers from Bangladesh, a Walmart associate from Maryland, and a warehouse worker from Joliet to give a preview, based on jobs now existing in the world of Wal-Mart.

The event takes place Monday, March 28 at 4:30 p.m. at Roosevelt University, 18 S. Michigan.

The experiences of Monday’s speakers don’t paint a bright picture for prospective Wal-Mart employees.  They range from below-minimum wage pay at Wal-Mart’s biggest U.S. warehouse, located in Elwood near Joliet, to the false imprisonment and torture of one of Bangladesh’s leading workers rights crusaders.

“We want to show how the workers at every point of Wal-Mart’s supply line are making poverty wages, and how Wal-Mart continues to violate labor law around the world in order to increase their profits,” said Moises Zavala of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 881, which is sponsoring the event.

The speakers include Kalpona Akter, who helped found the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity after being fired and blacklisted for trying to organize a union at a sweatshop factory; she started working in garment factories at the age of 12, working 14-hour days for $6 a month.   She’s mobilizing the nation’s 3.5 million sweatshop workers, mostly young women, to win a 41-cents-an-hour minimum wage.

Last year Wal-Mart’s subcontractor filed a false criminal complaint against Akter, resulting in her being jailed for 30 days and tortured, according to UFCW.

Kalpona Akter will be joined by Aleya Akter, a sewing machine operator at a Bangladesh factory that supplies apparel to Wal-Mart; Aleya began working in a garment factory in 1994 at the age of 9.

Also speaking will by Cynthia Murray, a former steelworker who’s worked as an associate in a Wal-Mart store in Maryland since 2000, and Robert Hines, a leader of Warehouse Workers for Justice.

Hines is one of a group of warehouse workers that has charged the Reliable Staffing agency with paying below-minimum wages at a Wal-Mart’s warehouse in Elwood, Illinois.  Leading up to Christmas last year, he and others were working 12- to 15-hour days but were paid by the piece – according to how many shipping containers they unloaded – and their pay was below the legal minimum, according to WWJ.

After repeatedly requesting full compensation, he and his fellow workers were laid off in December.  In February they filed suit, charging that Reliable had failed to provide required payment records and that the company owes them thousands of dollars in back wages.  They’re represented by the Working Hands Legal Clinic.

Reliable is one of a number of staffing agencies providing workers for Wal-Mart’s Elwood warehouse, where shipping containers originating in China are unloaded and products are redirected to stores around the Midwest.   In December 2009 workers at the same warehouse hired through Select Remedies charged that agency was splitting paychecks in order to avoid paying overtime.  Their lawsuit is pending.

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Category: international, labor, wage theft, Wal-Mart

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