New details emerged Thursday about the living conditions endured by workers at a Walmart support warehouse in Elwood, Ill. who went on strike last month to protest their poor working conditions and alleged retaliation by management.
In a new piece by The Guardian, warehouse worker Phillip Bailey explains how he sleeps in a Catholic hostel in Joliet, Ill., after a long day of loading and unloading hundreds of boxes bound for Walmart stores.
Another worker, Mike Compton, says he regularly sleeps in foreclosed homes, explaining, "I found one abandoned house that had working electricity still. And a fridge."
A third warehouse worker, Bailey said, was forced to live in the woods. "He just set up a tent in there for a few weeks." Temperatures in Northern Illinois during the winter average 22 degrees Farenheidt, making situations like these potentially deadly.
The dire conditions in which the workers live are compounded by the fact that their jobs working for the logistics company Roadlink Workforce Solutions, moving goods on their way to Walmarts nationwide, are physically taxing, perpetually part-time, and often pay near minimum wage. Compton told the Guardian that if he were to work every single week of the year, he might expect to make about $15,000. "It is not easy to get by," he added.
Walmart spokesman Dan Fogleman told HuffPost's Dave Jamieson in September that the company takes the workplace allegations "very seriously," adding that Walmart has "conducted a thorough review of the situation and are in the process of taking additional steps to help ensure that workers at all levels of our supply chain are treated with dignity and respect."
Walmart does not directly employ the warehouse workers, who work for RoadLink.
As for the strikes, Fogleman told both HuffPost and The Nation magazine they were not "really about Walmart at all," but were merely a way for the unions to increase membership and visibility.
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Warehouse Workers for Justice, a labor-backed nonprofit group that supported the warehouse workers when they went on strike in September, issued a statement saying, “No one should come to work and endure extreme temperatures, inhale dust and chemical residue, and lift thousands of boxes weighing up to 250 lbs with no support. Workers never know how long the work day will be -- sometimes its two hours, sometimes its 16 hours. Injuries are common, as is discrimination against women and illegal retaliation against workers who speak up for better treatment.”
Indeed, when Bailey and three of his co-workers filed suit against RoadLink in early September, they were sent home early the next day. Bailey was fired soon after, according to court documents.
There is a bright spot. After enduring a three-week unpaid strike to protest their working conditions and management retaliation, RoadLink agreed to end its retaliatory practices and readmit the warehouse workers to their jobs, with back pay.
While the strike represents a victory for fair treatment by management, it does little to change the reality of the workers' living conditions, or provide them with enough money to afford housing this winter.