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Warehouse workers say Wal-Mart has to pay up

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Workers fired from a Wal-Mart warehouse near Joliet after they filed a lawsuit charging wage theft say the company  has to stop hiding behind subcontractors and take responsibility for correcting legal violations.

Backed by Warehouse Workers for Justice [2]  and joined by community supporters, they’ll deliver a complaint to Wal-Mart representatives at the new Wal-Mart Express store in Presidential Towers tomorrow (Thursday, February 16, 12 noon, Monroe and Jefferson).

In November, workers hired by Eclipse Advantage to staff the Wal-Mart warehouse filed suit charging they were paid below minimum wage [3] and shorted on hours.  On December 29, 65 warehouse workers were informed that Eclipse was being replaced and they were out of a job.

On February 1 they filed a federal class-action lawsuit charging Eclipse had violated the federal WARN Act which requires 60 days notice for a mass layoff.   Their lawyers argue that while they were hired by a temporary agency, they were long-term employees (or “permatemps”). They also amended the original lawsuit, charging that they had been fired in retaliation for complaining about wage theft, in violation of state law.

They’re now filing a formal complaint with Wal-Mart charging that its subcontractor violated the company’s code of conduct for suppliers and demanding that workers be hired back and paid the wages they’re owed.

Corrective actions

Earlier, Wal-Mart seemed to suggest that Eclipse was replaced in response to workers’  allegations.

“We hold all of our vendors to high standards, and our expectation is they comply with all applicable laws,” spokesperson Greg Rossiter told WBEZ [4]. “Our vendors, such as Schneider, may take whatever corrective actions may be necessary.”  Schneider is Wal-mart’s LA lift truck service provider [5], manages Wal-Mart’s warehouse and contracted with Eclipse for personnel services.

Warehouse workers aren’t buying that.

“Somebody has to pay these workers the money they are owed,” said Mark Meinster of WWJ.  “If the firing was retaliatory, Wal-Mart has to correct the situation. Just putting these people out on the street is not a solution.”

Schneider manages other Wal-Mart warehouses, and in January a federal judge blocked the firing of 100 workers [6] who had complained about wage violations at a California warehouse managed by Schneider.  California labor inspectors had previously fined a staffing firm hired by Schneider for failing to provide itemized wage statements and shorting workers’ paychecks.

In Chicago tomorrow, workers will be backed by members of Chicago Neighborhoods First [7], a new coalition of business, labor, environmental and community groups that promotes “community-driven economic development” and corporate accountability.

The group includes community organizations in Austin, Chatham, and Pullman, all neighborhoods where Wal-Mart has built or is building new stores.

“If Wal-Mart wants to be part of Chicago, then Wal-Mart must ensure workers are paid what they are owed and that no retaliation takes place,” said Elce Redmond of the South Austin Coalition.