Walmart Implicated In Huge Wage-Theft Lawsuit
Posted in the Minneapolis Forum
#1 Nov 30, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- Warehouse workers in Southern California have filed a petition in court to name Walmart as a defendant in a federal wage-theft lawsuit, marking a significant turn in low-wage supply chain workers' fight with the world's largest retailer.
Although workers in Walmart's contracted warehouses in California and Illinois have alleged labor violations in the past, the filing on Friday is the first time Walmart itself has been directly implicated in the claims of abuse. Until now, only the retailer's subcontractors have been accused in court of shorting workers on pay and forcing them to work in substandard conditions.
"Walmart's name does not appear on any of these workers paychecks, and the Walmart logo does not appear on the t-shirts they're required to wear," Michael Rubin, the workers' lawyer, said on Friday. "But it has become increasingly clear that the ultimate liability for these workplace violations rests squarely on the shoulders of Walmart."
While Walmart directly manages much of its distribution network, the company outsources the operation of some of its largest warehouses to third-party logistics firms, which in turn hire low-paid temporary workers to perform the heavy lifting. These warehouses have become the target of a union-backed organizing effort through the groups Warehouse Workers United and Warehouse Workers for Justice, and several of them have been hit with employee lawsuits and labor-law violations.
In the case amended Friday, six workers at a Walmart-contracted warehouse in Riverside, Calif., sued a series of subcontractors last year, claiming they were paid less than the minimum wage, required to work in excessively hot conditions and retaliated against by superiors as they loaded and unloaded trucks and containers. Although the workers said the products they handled were destined for Walmart stores, the mega-retailer was not originally named in the suit.
Worker advocates have argued all along that Walmart, as the top company in the contract chain, is morally responsible for the working conditions at the warehouses its goods pass through. By trying to bring Walmart into the lawsuit now, they hope to prove that the company is legally and financially responsible as well, arguing that Walmart controls the operation and serves as the ultimate beneficiary of the work.
"I know that Walmart is responsible for all of this, even though they say they have nothing to do with us," said one of the plaintiffs, David Acosta, speaking in Spanish on a call with reporters Friday. "The boxes say Walmart, the containers say Walmart -- everything belongs to Walmart."
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