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Wal-Mart workers strike over workplace conditions

Just prior to Black Friday, several Southern California Wal-Mart warehouse workers walked out on their jobs in protest of unsafe working conditions, low pay and lack of benefits. Some employees allege that they have faced retaliation because they planned to strike.

Employee representatives say the walkout was a preview of other employment actions planned for the coming holiday season, a major earning period for the big-box retailer. Associates at several stores throughout the nation threatened to go on strike during some of the biggest shopping days of the season, including Black Friday.

Reports show that the workers at the southern California facility are employed in a warehouse that is contracted to deliver products to Wal-Mart. Those workers are employed through a staffing company that services a contractor; they do not work directly for Wal-Mart, but their decision to walk off the job will impact the retailer's ability to distribute goods.

The company that runs the warehouse, NFI, has been accused of a variety of labor violations. One man said he was promised a 90-day probation period, after which he would be moved to full-time work from his current part-time position. That period has already elapsed, and the man is no closer to getting full-time status. He, along with others, complains that the $8 per hour wages paid to facility workers cannot support a family.

Employee advocates say some workers were told not to come into work on certain days, because employers feared those workers would strike and speak out against their employment conditions. Many of the employees are kept at maximum part-time status, working without benefits or living wages because the staffing firm and contractor are seeking cheap labor, according to advocates.

Employees say the facility is generally unsafe. Equipment frequently breaks, requiring them to lift loads manually, which can cause injuries. Injured workers do not receive benefits, so they are seen as disposable.

This is just one of many recent workers' rights movements that has affected Wal-Mart's employee base. Earlier this year, other warehouse workers in California and Illinois also walked out in protest of unacceptable working conditions.

Of course, striking is just one option that employees have in the face of unsafe working conditions. When employers break health and safety laws, workers also have the option to report those violations to the government. Workers are protected against retaliation from this sort of reporting, and any demotions or terminations that come in response to a health and safety report can be contested in a court of law.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Walmart-contracted warehouse workers strike ahead of Black Friday," Dave Jamieson, Nov. 14, 2012.

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