Wal-Mart May Be Named As Defendant In Wage Theft Lawsuit

This would be, as Joe Biden would say, a BFD. Finally, possible progress in breaking down the nominal wall of contract work erected by corporate behemoths in an attempt to avoid legal responsibility for workers. From Josh Eidelson in The Nation:

Attorneys representing workers in Walmart warehouses today announced the filing of a motion to add the retail giant as a defendant in an ongoing federal wage theft lawsuit. If successful, the motion would advance efforts by organized labor to punish Walmart for alleged rampant abuses, and to establish its responsibility for the actions of its contractors and sub-contractors in California and elsewhere.

Lawyers say the wage theft class action could involve as many as 1,800 workers in southern California’s Inland Empire (its class action status has been provisionally certified for a smaller group). As I’ve reported for Salon, Mira Loma, CA, workers from three warehouses brought charges to the California Department of Labor Standards enforcement last year. Workers say that they exclusively move goods for Walmart; each of the sub-contractors that hired them was employed by the Walmart contractor Schneider Logistics.

On a media conference call with the attorneys, warehouse worker David Acosta said he worked unpaid overtime, and sometimes worked up to 16 hours a day with only a single break. “There were years without respect,” Acosta said in Spanish. “Our dignity was thrown to the floors.”

According to workers, one of those sub-contractors, Rogers-Premier, responded to a worker-prompted state investigation by moving to lay off all of its employees in one of the warehouses. With support from Warehouse Workers United, a project of the union federation Change to Win, workers sought, and won, a rare judicial restraining order enjoining the layoffs. That federal district court injunction, and two others against the warehouse companies, are currently on appeal.

The court also found Schneider to be a “joint employer” with responsibility for working conditions, allowing it to be named as a defendant in a suit filed in October 2011 alleging rampant wage theft and retaliation. In July, a Change to Win attorney called this “a first step in breaking down this fissured industry.” A June report from the National Employment Law Project found that Walmart “is intimately involved in the daily operations of the Schneider operations, which solely move Walmart goods”; Walmart responded in July that it “does not have any direct contract with Schneider’s subcontractors.”

“Our breaks and rest periods weren’t being respected…” warehouse worker Jose Tejada told reporters in February. “If you answered, or complained, you would get fired for no reason. Or sometimes as punishment…you would work both the night and the day shift, and on top of that they would only pay you for the morning shift.”

WWU has been hoping for months that the discovery phase of the lawsuit would yield enough evidence to also have Walmart itself named as a defendant. Attorneys say that’s now happened. The motion will be heard in court on January 7.

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