WWJ is proud to present our latest research report, The COVID Jungle: Chicagoland's Essential Food Workers and the Need for Vaccination Priority. The report highlights workers' voices and stories about COVID-19 in their workplaces and the need to prioritize these essential workers for COVID-19 vaccine access.
Read the report here.
Warehouse workers in the food chain keep our grocery store shelves stocked, restaurant kitchens supplied, and food deliveries ready to roll. But jobs in food warehouses are often dangerous and poorly paid, leaving workers to struggle for stability even at some of the world's richest corporations.
2020 was a hard year for warehouse workers - the COVID-19 pandemic magnified existing problems in the industry and deepened the divide between the workers who keep warehouses running and the employers who enjoy the profits. As the world has pivoted to remote work, warehouse workers have never been more essential or more at risk.
Our 2020 Annual Report showcases the fights we led for warehouse workers this year and the ongoing struggle for PPE, safety precautions, and vaccine access. Read the report here.
A second COVID-19 surge is hitting just as the holiday shopping season kicks off, amplifying the existing abuses and problems in the warehousing industry. Here's a collection of recent articles on warehouse workers in Chicago and across the country:
On October 27th, WWJ stood with workers at the Mars Wrigley warehouse in Joliet, IL. After signing a petition for better pay and more safety precautions during COVID-19, several workers were fired in retaliation. WWJ promoted a petition to Mars Wrigley global president Andrew Clarke demanding justice for the workers and COVID-19 protections inside the warehouse. Business Insider covered the action and the context here.
Open Letter to Walmart: Hire Back Black Warehouse Workers with Criminal Backgrounds at Your Largest North American Warehouse
June 19th, 2019
President and CEO
Dear Mr. Foran,
This Juneteenth, community leaders, elected officials, religious leaders and labor leaders are urging you to rehire hundreds of predominantly Black warehouse workers who were formerly employed by Schneider Logistics at your largest warehouse in the country in Elwood, Illinois.
Many of the workers at your warehouse worked for years at your facility, loading and unloading trucks, moving your merchandize, keeping track of your products and making sure customers always got their products in time. Your workforce was hard working, loyal and took pride in their jobs. After you “in-sourced” your workforce you told predominantly black workers they would not be hired because of criminal backgrounds. Not only did these hundreds of workers lose their jobs, they lost out on raises and benefits you were giving to employees.
According to the Bureau of Justice’s statistics, 2.2 million people were in jail in the United States in 2018, making the country the largest jailer in the world, both in total size and per population. While 8% of the total population has had a felony, 33% of black males have some form of felony. These kind of criminal records create barriers for all with criminal record, but disproportionately hurt black workers. Whether it’s the intent or not, your decision hurt the black community. Further, your decision happened during a time when Illinois recently legalized marijuana. This was done partially to alleviate the problem of criminalization of the black community. Throughout our society, there are deep conversations about race and criminalization and whether our justice system has been too punitive towards citizens, especially people of color.
That’s why it’s so disappointing that you took actions that cost hundreds of worker their jobs. However, it’s not too late and you can do the following to address workers issues.
We Demand the Following:
Warehouse Workers for Justice
Walmart Workers for Justice
Mark Balentine, Former Walmart/Schneider Employee, 3 years
Laseant Sardin, Former Walmart/Schneider Employee, 2 years
Doane Amerson, Former Walmart/Schneider Employee, 2 years
Gerome Waller, Former Walmart/Schneider Employee, 8 months
Matthew Metts, Former Walmart/Schneider Employee, 2 years
Robert Jackson, Former Walmart/Schneider Employee, 2 ½ years
Robert Peters, Illinois State Senator, 13th District
Aaron Ortiz, Illinois State Representative, 1st District
Alma Anaya, Cook County Commissioner, 7th District
Jackie Traynere, Will County Board, 4th District
Rachel Ventura, Will County Board, 9th District
Alderwoman Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez, 33rd Ward
Dr. Robert C Jones Jr., Pastor, Mt Carmel Missionary Baptist Church
Melissa Brice, Founder 350 Chicago
Larry Coble, Vice President, Board of Directors, 350 Chicago
About Face: Veterans Against War
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308
Centro De Trabajadores Unidos (CTU)
Chicago Community and Workers Rights
Chicago Jobs With Justice
Chicago Workers Collaborative
Farmworker Association of Florida
Fair World Project
Federation Du Commerce
Food Chain Workers Alliance
Food and Water Watch
Greater Chicago Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)
International Labor Rights Forum
Just Say No To Northpoint
Justice is Global
Laundry Workers Center New York City/New Jersey
Mississippi Workers' Center for Human Rights
Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church- Chicago
Our Revolution National
Organizations United for Respect (OUR)
Partnership for Working Families
Pioneer Valley Workers Center
Raise The Floor Alliance
Restaurant Opportunities Center- Chicago
Sierra Club Illinois
Shriver Center on Poverty Law
Street Vendors Project
United Electrical Workers (UE) Western Region
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 881 (UFCW)
United Working Families (UWF)
Vietnam Veterans Against the War
Workers Rights Board-Chicago
Groups talk concerns about rampant warehouse developments: 'The system is set up to put the cost on us'
By Karen Lewis, Greg Kelley and Mark Meinster
While Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Bruce Rauner compete to see who can give Amazon a bigger tax break to bring its headquarters to Illinois, they’ve both ignored a critical detail: These types of deals don’t work.
In 2011, Sears was promised $150 million over 10 years in state subsidies to keep jobs at its Hoffman Estates headquarters, but the company has eliminated hundreds of the jobs it agreed to retain and is now openly talking about going out of business. Also in 2011, Illinois taxpayers gave Motorola Mobility $118 million to keep 3,000 jobs in Illinois. After repeated cuts, only a fraction remain. Two years after Illinois gave Mitsubishi $3.66 million in state Economic Development for a Growing Economy tax credits, the company closed its Normal plant and laid off 1,200 workers.
These giveaways shortchange taxpayers and go to companies that don’t often need them. For example, Amazon recently started delivering its own packages to shorten delivery times and lower shipping costs. The Chicago metropolitan area is one of the nation’s premier transportation hubs, so Amazon would have inevitably built multiple facilities here, yet Illinois still gave Amazon $112 million to build its local warehouse network.
To add insult to injury, Amazon’s local warehouse jobs pay poverty wages. Amazon’s McKinley Park workers are limited to four-hour shifts, which keeps salaries low, while schedules make it difficult for employees to find a second job to supplement income. Delivery drivers compete for two-hour shifts using Amazon’s proprietary Flex mobile platform and deliver packages in their personal vehicles. Drivers earn far less than the UPS or FedEx drivers they’ve replaced after paying for expenses such as gas, insurance and maintenance. If Amazon is going to be invited to Chicago, we need quality, full-time jobs that support working families.
Amazon’s business plan will instead likely displace thousands of Chicagoans who currently earn a living wage, intensify the exploitation of low-wage workers and hurt thousands of struggling families just as it did in Seattle.
Amazon’s Seattle campus and its massive workforce have displaced thousands of area residents, as home prices have risen faster than in any other U.S. city. Seattle’s median home price is now $729,000, more than double that of Chicago. An Amazon HQ2 in Chicago would supercharge gentrification in our neighborhoods, just as in Seattle. Real estate experts predict that pressure on low-income residents in Chicago’s gentrification hot spots will intensify, and even residents in previously nongentrified neighborhoods would face displacement.
An Amazon deal would likely exacerbate those gentrification trends and represent a massive transfer of resources to a wealthy corporation — resources that should instead be invested into communities besieged by unemployment, school closings and the violence produced by disinvestment and despair. Meanwhile, Mayor Emanuel sits on hundreds of millions of dollars in Chicago Housing Authority funds that could reverse the greatest forced exodus of African-American families in Chicago’s history.
As with previous efforts to entice high-profile companies to the region, some are demanding that Chicago pay whatever it costs to land Amazon’s new headquarters. But how much will it really cost? Wisconsin’s recent $3 billion giveaway to Foxconn has set a new — and spectacularly high — benchmark. This scale of expenditure in Chicago would further undermine state and local funding for our schools, neighborhoods, health care system and most-vulnerable residents.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has an opportunity to create a new paradigm for corporate citizenship. As a condition of any proposed subsidies, Amazon should agree to enter into a binding community benefits agreement designed to offset the company’s impact on schools, housing, job quality and state and local budgets. A CBA would include specific targets for investment in minority and low-income public schools, create affordable housing units to offset those that will otherwise be lost, support affordable health care for workers and their families, and ensure that all Amazon workers earn at least $15 an hour and have the right to form a union.
Our elected officials have historically opened their checkbooks in return for flowery promises and fancy photo opportunities, but little else. The rest of us should oppose any deal until we get Mr. Bezos’ signature on a binding CBA — one that has the full support of Mayor Emanuel and is built on genuine commitments to ensure that this city works for all of our residents.
Karen Lewis is president of the Chicago Teachers Union; Greg Kelley is president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Indiana; Mark Meinster is executive director of Warehouse Workers for Justice.
By Jeff Schrurke
In These Times
Beginning next summer, a sweeping new law will take effect in Illinois, ending many of the routine injustices suffered by the state’s nearly 850,000 temp employees who often work under miserable conditions.
The Responsible Job Creation Act, or HB690, represents the most ambitious attempt to date by any state to regulate the growing temporary staffing industry. Introduced in January, the bill gained bipartisan support in the Illinois General Assembly and was signed into law by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in late September. The law will take effect June 1, 2018.
The legislation, which addresses job insecurity, hiring discrimination and workplace safety, was championed by the Chicago Workers’ Collaborative (CWC) and Warehouse Workers for Justice (WWJ), as well as the Illinois AFL-CIO and Raise the Floor Alliance, a coalition of eight Chicago worker centers.
The law will require staffing agencies to make an effort to place temp workers into permanent positions as they become available—a step forward in the fight to end “perma-temping.” To address racial bias in hiring, the new law requires temporary staffing agencies record and report the race and gender of all job applicants to the Illinois Department of Labor. And in an effort to reduce the workplace injuries that temps frequently suffer, agencies will also now have to notify workers about the kinds of equipment, training and protective clothing required to perform a job.
Read More Here