Working in a warehouse can be tough enough without 90-degree heat to contend with. Last Friday was just such a day in Mira Loma, and workers at a warehouse there operated by Olivet International Inc. took two or three heat breaks, as they say was customary at the company. Last week, however, ten of those workers found themselves abruptly suspended, indefinitely, for taking a five-minute head break.
Those workers believe the indefinite suspensions were really a form of retaliatory termination, because they had been complaining about safety concerns over the past few months. "They ignore us,” one of the men told reporters as they picketed the company on Wednesday. “They take us as a joke."
The workers’ complaints were largely about fears that overloaded or speeding forklifts were becoming a hazard. They also say the company denies their requests when they ask for a simple glass of water on hot days.
The worker quoted by the Huffington Post said that he had worked at the Walmart-supplier for a year -- until Friday. Over that time, he and his co-workers had routinely been allowed to take two or three 5-minute heat breaks on hot days. "But then on Friday, they told us they were suspending us for taking a heat break.”
The retaliatory termination scheme didn’t come as a complete surprise. In May, Warehouse Workers United filed a complaint with the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration saying that towers of boxes were improperly secured and collapse, fire exits were blocked, and the workers had inadequate access to water.
In July, about 30 workers from the Mira Loma warehouse participated in a two-day strike organized by the same union. The strike was also about safety concerns.
Shortly after Cal/OSHA inspected the facility in response to the union’s complaint, Olivet installed security cameras in the break rooms and outside the restrooms -- and brought in a “consultant” who warned the workers not to speak publicly about the working conditions at the warehouse.
"I think they're trying to intimidate us, to see every move we make,” the worker told HuffPost.
Under both California and federal law, denying workers adequate breaks is illegal, as is retaliation against workers for complaining about unlawful behavior.
"I want management to hear us and take a walk in our shoes to see what we go through every day. This warehouse is really tough to work in under such hot temperatures with no cool water," commented the worker.
Olivet International has declined to comment. Walmart referred all questions to Olivet.
Source: Huffington Post, "Walmart Supplier Warehouse Workers Fired For Taking 5-Minute Break, They Say," Kathleen Miles, Aug. 22, 2013