Freezing warehouse workers claim company retaliation

2014-02-19T17:00:00Z 2014-02-19T17:59:33Z Freezing warehouse workers claim company retaliationJoseph S. Pete joseph.pete@nwi.com, (219) 933-3316 nwitimes.com
February 19, 2014 5:00 pm  • 

HAMMOND | Warehouse workers who protested having to work in bitter subzero cold say the company has since fired, disciplined, suspended and threatened them.

Contractors at the Walmart Consolidation Center No. 7100 on 141st Street in Hammond filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board Wednesday, said Leah Fried, a spokeswoman for Warehouse Workers for Justice.

They are asking for a worker to be reinstated to his position and for back pay.

"All we want is to work in safety and be treated fairly," said warehouse worker Dion Stammis. "It's what Wal-Mart says they expect from their contractors and suppliers. But instead of fixing the dangerous conditions, my co-workers and I were threatened, disciplined and fired."

Third-party warehouse operator LINC Logistics Insight Corp. said the disciplinary actions were unrelated to the protests.

"We are surprised by the allegations of this employee as any and all disciplinary actions are based on lawful reasons consistent with our policies," said LINC Logistics Director of Operations John Locke. "We always strive to provide our employees with a clean, safe and healthy work environment, and appreciate ongoing suggestions from our employees to further this process. We work very diligently to provide great customer service on a holistic basis for all of our clients, which include Wal-Mart and many other companies."

The third-party operator employs the workers and is responsible for running the facility, Wal-Mart spokeswoman Dianna Gee said.

"We always expect our third party service providers to maintain legal compliance in their operations, especially with their workforce," she said.

In late January, workers marched on the Hammond Walmart Supercenter to protest a lack of heating and exposure to cold winds in their warehouse. Employees complained they had to work in minus 18 degree wind chill and that several layers of clothing failed to keep them warm.

Since the employees started organizing for better working conditions, two workers were fired, one was suspended, two were threatened and one was disciplined, Fried said. One worker has since been reinstated to his old job.

"They've been told to stop or something really bad would happen," Fried said. "They are really angry that they are being retaliated against for asking for safety in their workplace and demanding their legal right. Safety at work is a basic human right."

The protests did spur the company to install three large space heaters in the facility, but it is still cold because of broken dock doors that have been left open, Fried said.

Workers still have safety concerns, such as broken equipment and forklifts without brakes, she said.

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