Fire Exits Are Often Blocked

ONTARIO, Calif. -- Citing blocked fire exits, frequent collapses of heavy boxes stacked 30 feet high and lack of adequate drinking water, more than two dozen workers who primarily move Walmart merchandise at a warehouse in Mira Loma, California called on the state of California to intervene to improve working conditions.

The workers, many of whom are paid less than $200 per week, made their detailed complaint to California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA, public Thursday morning.

“It’s hard to imagine worse conditions inside of a domestic warehouse,” said Guadalupe Palma, director of Warehouse Workers United. “Workers are exposed to incredibly dangerous working conditions. Workers report blocked fire exits in the warehouse; a situation all the more troubling in light of the recent Bangladeshi garment workers tragedy.”

The 455,000 square foot warehouse operated by Olivet International Inc. is a key facility for Walmart luggage with Walmart’s Protégé brand suitcase representing one of the most common products that move through the warehouse. About 200 workers labor inside the warehouse.

“Most of the suitcases and pet products that we lift go to Walmart,” said Miriam Garcia, who has worked at the warehouse for two years. “We see Walmart’s name on boxes and paperwork inside the warehouse.”

“It is unsafe inside the warehouse. We are treated like animals and are often yelled at and told to work faster. It is dangerous inside the warehouse. High stacks of boxes often fall and some of the forklifts don’t have working brakes. We are often blocked inside of the metal shipping containers in the darkness.”

Workers report:

  • Working inside pitch black 53 foot long containers
  • Blocked fire exits.
  • Forklifts without working brakes and in need of repair
  • One bathroom available to workers. The bathroom door does not always lock.
  • Towers of boxes routinely fall.
  • Leaks in forklift propane tanks and refueling hoses.

Domestic warehouses are a critical link in Walmart’s domestic supply chain. Warehouse workers in Southern California’s Inland Empire unpack shipping containers that arrive in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach from Asia and are then trucked to warehouses in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Warehouse workers at Olivet and other facilities, working for Walmart contractors and temporary staffing agencies, manually load and unload 50-75 pound boxes destined for Walmart’s shelves.

“The work is very hard,” said Cesar Garcia, who has worked at the warehouse for six years. “It’s harder because the warehouse operator cuts every corner it can. We don’t always have lights in the containers so we use our cell phones for light. We don’t have the right safety equipment either. It’s very dangerous.”

In April workers from Walmart’s global supply chain released core principles that would ensure basic labor standards in the megaretailer’s global supply chain. Workers from the National Guestworker Alliance, Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, Warehouse Workers United, New Labor, Warehouse Workers for Justice and Jobs with Justice agreed that Walmart’s standards must be enforceable and credible, and that workers must have a voice in the process in order for working conditions to improve.

Over the course of 2012, guestworkers, factory workers and warehouse workers exposed deadly, unsafe and illegal conditions inside Walmart’s contracted facilities. In response to pressure from workers’ groups, Walmart has accepted responsibility for conditions in its supply chain, but the company’s own solutions fail to uphold its basic standards and the law.