The alleged wage theft and mass firings of Wal-Mart warehouse contractors sparked a 100-strong demonstration by Chicago community groups at a Walmart Express in the West Loop on Thursday.
After working a full shift on December 29, 2011, 65 workers at the massive Wal-Mart warehouse in Elwood, Ill. were informed they would lose their jobs effective immediately. Walmart’s warehouse operator, Schneider Logistics, cancelled the contract with the temp agency that employed the workers, Eclipse Advantage Inc., after the workers filed a lawsuit against each company to recover alleged stolen wages. Eclipse Advantage Inc., Orlando, Fla., is a staffing company for warehouse, logistics and distribution operations. Schneider Logistics is a subsidiary of Schneider National Inc., Green Bay, Wisconsin.
“A number of people came to us saying they weren’t paid for all the hours they worked and not at the level promised by the employer. Sometimes it was less than minimum wage,” said Mark Meinster, a board member of Warehouse Workers for Justice, a Chicago-based advocacy group forIllinoiswarehouse and logistics workers.
Meinster said that the mass firings may have violated the Illinois WARN Act, which requires employers with 75 or more full-time employees to give workers and state and local government officials 60 days advance notice of a plant closing or mass layoff. An employer that fails to provide notice as required by law is liable to each affected employee for back pay and benefits for the period of the violation.
Meinster said the protest did not receive an official response from the management at the Walmart Express, but the company’s corporate office said if the allegations are true than rectifications will be made for the workers.
"If the allegations are accurate, we will require our contractor to take appropriate action immediately," a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. spokesman told Crain’s Chicago Business.
However, this is hardly the first time Schneider Logistics has faced legal action regarding its treatment of workers at the Elwood warehouse — allegations of wage theft involving its contracted staffing agencies has occurred multiple times over the past few years.
Warehouse Workers for Justice, Chicago Neighborhoods First, a community advocacy group, the fired workers and others present at the Thursday demonstration appealed to Wal-Mart’s policies on suppliers business conduct.
"Wal-Mart says their contractors and suppliers must ‘compensate worker with wages, overtime premiums and benefits that meet or exceed legal standards’ yet when we sued Eclipse for wage theft, we were fired," said Leticia Rodriguez former worker at the Walmart warehouse in Elwood. "We want Wal-Mart to keep their word and make this right."
In the meantime the workers have a lawsuit pending against both Schneider Logistics and Eclipse Advantage. Warehouse Workers for Justice, which is assisting with the lawsuit, said it has not yet ascertained the total amount of wages allegedly owed to the 65 employees.
“Our attorneys will be able to go thru the pay stubs to get the actual amount,” said Meinster.
Image: Warehouse Workers for Justice