Quick Hit Matthew Blake Thursday October 25th, 2012, 5:36pm

Making Sense Of The Recent Walmart Actions

A class action lawsuit filed Monday by twenty Chicago area Walmart workers is just the latest action against the retail giant. Walmart is also subject to a lawsuit by Chicago area supply workers and a planned employee walkout on “Black Friday”, the day after Thanksgiving shopping frenzy.

There's no obvious reason these anti-Walmart initiatives are all happening now.

Robert Bruno, director of the University of Illinois-Chicago labor studies department, credits the “constant experimentation” of unions such as the United Food and Commercial Workers, or UFCW, following the failure of more traditional unionization efforts.

One local explanation for the latest flurry of actions against the retail giant is that workers have started to take advantage of a recent state law.
In 2006, the Illinois General Assembly made key changes to the 2001 Illinois Day and Temporary Labor Services Act to set basic safeguards for employees hired by companies through staffing agencies.

For example, the law stipulates that both the staffing agency and company are legally liable to fill out paperwork about the employees they hire and how many hours they’re on the job.

The lawsuit filed this week is not just against Walmart, but also Labor Ready Midwest and QPS Employment Group staffing agencies. The plaintiffs, who are assisted by UFCW, contend that Walmart and the staffing agencies are not just guilty of wage theft ,such as the failure to pay overtime. They have also lodged the perhaps easier to prove complaint that no one kept records of their labor.

Litgation from employees at the Walmart warehouse in the Will County town of Elwood is similar.

In this instance, four plaintiffs assisted by Warehouse Workers for Justice, a Chicago group affiliated with the United Electrical workers union, sued Walmart subcontractor RoadLink on wage theft claims. Roadlink staffs the Schneider Logistics Walmart supply warehouse.

Chris Williams, an attorney at the Workers’ Law Offices in Chicago and is representing Walmart workers in both cases, claims the company is susceptible to violating the labor services act because, “They set a price and tell their subcontractors to meet the price by whatever means necessary.”

Walmart has publicly stated that the recent worker actions are nothing new. Company spokesman Dan Fogelman told the Huffington Post, “We’ve seen unions hold these made-for-TV events outside our stores for about 10 years now.”

But Bruno argues these recent actions are different because politically active employees and unions have stopped trying to organize non-union workers. They have focused instead on specific violations of legal rights. “These are new models [for] representing workers,” Bruno says.


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