LOS ANGELES — Major retailers like Walmart are driving down wages and workplace safety standards on a scale far greater than understood before, a report released today by the National Employment Law Project shows.
The explosion of “domestic outsourcing,” the aggressive practice of contracting warehousing, transportation and goods delivery to a complex hierarchy of contractors and subcontractors, has lowered the quality of jobs in Southern California and disproportionately impacted working Latinos here.
According to “Chain of Greed”: “Walmart sets the parameters for the working conditions in (warehouses)…But when things go wrong, it’s the contractors that are blamed, while Walmart skirts responsibility for its actions and accountability for its influence over those engaged in its massive supply chain.”
Hundreds of millions of tons of goods enter the United States every year through our nation’s busiest ports in Long Beach and Los Angeles. Containers are then trucked through the Los Angeles basin to the Inland Empire, San Bernardino and Riverside counties, where roughly 85,000 warehouse workers, mostly Latino, unpack and reload items onto trucks destined for retail outlets.
“Chain of Greed,” the report released by NELP, details how Walmart’s influence over the entire logistics and manufacturing industries has led to increasing reliance on temporary workers who are often paid minimum wage or less, which keeps labor costs artificially low and masks responsibility for these working conditions.
“In order to continue to win business, subcontractors must model their businesses like Walmart,” said Maria Elena Durazo, secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. “That means consistently lowering standards, lowering wages and cutting corners even if it means dangerous working conditions. Workers bear the brunt of this unsustainable model.”
Every year retailers like Walmart require more for less from their contractors.
“Walmart figured out how to shift the burden off the retailer and move economic risks lower down the supply chain ultimately to a low-paid, mostly Latino workforce ,” said Guadalupe Palma, a campaign director for Warehouse Workers United, an organization committed to improving the quality of warehouse jobs. “Walmart is responsible for the illegal working conditions and low wages at the warehouses that move its goods. Changing this industry means creating thousands of good jobs and improving the quality of life in Southern California.”
For Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, the report’s conclusion that domestic outsourcing imposes an especially severe toll on Latino and immigrant workers in Southern California and around the U.S. is striking.
“Latinos and immigrants in this industry are facing extremely low wages and little regard for basic workplace safety standards. We see “domestic outsourcing” in many sectors like agriculture, janitorial and cleaning where people do hard work largely out of sight. Shedding light on poor labor conditions will lead to better, more humane lives for a huge part of our population.”
David Acosta, father of three young children, described his experience working inside Southern California warehouses.
“We worked long days, often 16 hours with no breaks, no time for lunch and no overtime pay. We knew it was wrong, but it seemed like there was no one to talk to to make it better. Things started to change when we stood together in the face of retaliation.”
The report calls for specific recommendations to create “greater transparency and accountability within these multi-layered hydra-like logistics chains” including better enforcement of existing laws and adding warehousing to current law that protects workers in subcontracted industries like as janitorial and agricultural work. It also reinforces Warehouse Workers United’s calls for Walmart to adopt a meaningful responsible contractor policy that would end abusive conditions in Walmart contracted warehouses.