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California Warehouses Hit with Huge Fines; Workers Allege Retaliatory Firings

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Laura ClawsonThe warehouses in California’s Inland Empire are important distribution points for many of the stores you shop at and goods you buy. They’re also terrible, terrible places to work, and in recent months, California has been taking action against some of their worst abuses. This week:

The California Department of Industrial Relations’ Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) issued citations to warehouse owner National Distribution Centers and its temporary staffing contractor, Tri State Staffing, for more than 60 violations at four warehouses in San Bernardino County. The violations include lack of fall protection for high-rise pickers, unstable storage stacking and unguarded machinery.

National Distribution Centers and Tri State Staffing were fined $256,445. In November, the California labor commissioner fined Premier Warehousing Ventures more than $600,000 for failing to provide proper wage statements (a great way to clear the way for rampant wage theft) and Impact Logistics was fined $499,000 for similar violations. Both of those firms employed workers at Schneider Logistics.

If you’re already losing track of the “logistics” this and “staffing” that, it’s because workers in Inland Empire warehouses tend to have multiple employers, starting with the temp staffing firms that hire them, then the companies that actually run the warehouses. Down the road, of course, those companies are contracted to distribute goods by businesses you’ve actually heard of, like—in the case of Schneider Logistics—Walmart.

The fines to staffing agencies employing workers at Schneider Logistics aren’t Schneider’s only labor problem right now, either. Workers sued Schneider and Rogers-Premier Unloading Services (same as Premier Warehousing Ventures mentioned above, but, for an extra layer of confusion, referred to by different names in different accounts), last year because they weren’t being paid the minimum wage or overtime. Now, in a total coincidence that is in no way retaliatory, the workers are losing their jobs as Rogers-Premier pulls out of its contract with Schneider more than a year before the contract was set to expire, putting 100 workers out of work. And when I say this wasn’t retaliatory, I mean that:

At an Oct. 18 meeting, Schneider managers informed workers that if they supported the lawsuit, they would be “destroyed” and “thrown away,” and two workers were suspended for taking these stands, according to court records.

Two days, later, Rogers-Premier told Schneider it was canceling its labor services contract 18 months early, citing increased costs, unless Schneider renegotiated. Schneider declined to do that.

In addition to filing a complaint in court, workers rallied Wednesday to protest the firings.

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on January 19, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

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