Riot police arrest peaceful protesters rallying for striking Walmart workers
October 2, 2012
Hundreds of people gathered at a major Walmart distribution center Monday in Elwood, Illinois to stand in solidarity with workers who have been on strike since mid-September in response to unsafe working conditions and unfair wages.
“No one should come to work and endure extreme temperatures, inhale dust and chemical residue, and lift thousands of boxes weighing up to 250lbs 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,” Warehouse Workers for Justice states at its official website.
The discrimination aspect of this list of grievances includes widespread sexual harassment and intimidation of female warehouse workers, an epidemic largely ignored by the establishment media, even among individuals, such as the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof, known for focusing on female worker equality and empowerment in other countries.
“When I worked at the Walmart warehouse in Elwood, I was sexually harassed on a regular basis…I literally got locked inside a trailer because that’s what the men thought I was there for…I reported it to my supervisor, but he didn’t do anything about it,” said Ulyonda Dickerson, a worker at the Walmart warehouse in Elwood, in a report released by Warehouse Workers for Justice.
“I told the supervisors about it, but they definitely don’t listen. One supervisor I had tried to tell said, ‘I didn’t see that.’ Just because you didn’t see it, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” said Samantha Rodriguez, another Elwood warehouse employee, in the same report. “When I went to another supervisor about the harassment, he asked me out on a date. I said no, and eventually I got fired.”
In response to Monday’s peaceful protester, riot police from Will County and Elwood were unleashed on the crowd, and witnesses tweeted a series of disturbing photos, including officers in full riot regalia (face shields, clubs, body armor,) and what appears to be a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) vehicle.
There was some confusion about the police’s jurisdiction on Twitter with individuals speculating the officers were private police given their “paramilitary” appearance.
Photos from the protest show officers restraining some protesters with zip-ties after police declared the event an “unlawful assembly.” Ultimately, 17 peaceful protesters were arrested, and activists sang “We Shall Overcome” as they were cuffed and walked to a police transport unit.
Elwood police Chief Fred Hayes said, “Police officers always have to prepare for the worst thing that could possibly happen.”
Among those arrested were Will County Board member Jackie Traynere, the Rev. Craig Purchase of Mount Zion Tabernacle Church in Joliet, the Rev. Raymond Lescher of Sacred Heart Church in Joliet and Charlotte Droogan, lay minister at Universalist Unitarian Church of Joliet, Southtown Star reports.
Mike Compton, one of the striking warehouse workers who walked off the job, said after working at the warehouse for three months, he was a veteran worker because the turnover is so high. He said everyone quits because “They call us bodies and that’s what we feel like.”
Wal-Mart, famous for union-busting and employee abuse, is heavily subsidized by the state i.e. U.S. taxpayers with many of its employees relying on food stamps and state-run health insurance for survival.
Despite these dire working conditions, Wal-Mart claims the WWJ is out to fulfil a nefarious agenda.
This isn’t really about Walmart at all,” said company spokesman Dan Fogleman. “… The union is focused on fulfilling its own agenda.”
WWJ is a “union-funded, union-backed” organization that wants more union members who pay dues that can be used by union bosses on their political agenda, Fogleman said.
WWJ spokeswoman Leah Fried responded, saying WWJ is 95 percent funded by foundations and donations, and while the union is supporting the group, so are many others.
“It’s so incredible that his response for people not getting paid for heavy, difficult labor is to say it’s just a union-backed thing,” she said. “They feel it’s somehow OK for this to go on in their warehouses.”
The action in Elwood follows a walkout of non-union workers at a large Walmart warehouse near Riverside, California, that recently ended after 15 days due to workers’ family financial problems. In These Timesjournalist David Moberg credits the Riverside workout for inspiring the Sept. 15 walkout by 30-plus workers at Wal-Mart’s huge Elwood warehouse.