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September 23, 2012

Workers March to Demand Better Conditions from Walmart.

By nadin abbott

March on Walmart in San Diego


March down to Sherman Heights Market
(Image by Nadin Abbott)
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March down to Sherman Heights Market by Nadin Abbott

As the marchers came down chants started to be heard. "Wallmart eschucha, estamos en la lucha," (Walmart listen, we are in the fight). "1,2.3,4 we don't want your Walmart store, 5,6,7,8, Walmart discriminates). "Los Pueblos unidos, james seran vencidos." (The people united, will never be defeated.)

According to Lorena Gonzales, Secretary-Treasurer CEO of the San Diego and Imperial Labor Councils, there were close to a thousand people. They came from all trades, and a large list of community groups. They came together to demand that Walmart treat it's workers fairly.

Carlos Martinez by Nadin Abbott

I had an opportunity to talk with Carlos Martinez, a warehouse worker at NFI in Ontario. They are on strike because of the working conditions at the plant. You may think that China has bad working conditions, this is in the United States. Here are the major complaints from the workers, and they are very serious.

"Workers do not have drinkable water, there is no ventilation in either the warehouse or the trailers." Workers work for $8.00\hour, and nobody gets a forty hour week. This way they avoid benefits. Moreover the schedules worked are unpredictable, which means workers cannot plan to get a second job. Some shifts are two to four hours longs, while others are four to eight. The week is either four or five days long.

OSHA mandates breaks, but workers at this facility do not get them, nor do they know they can get them. As Martinez put it, "nobody knows they have a right to get breaks." Even going to the bathroom is penalized, and workers are discriminated for doing such.

The company, MFI, just wants the trucks to come in and out.

Workers who are hurt, do not say a thing and continue working, instead of taking the time off. If the company finds out that an employee is hurt, they can be terminated. That is the way the way the Company deals with it.

Martinez added that "We work hard to get the freight out." We have been asked to empty a trailer "in forty five minutes, from front to back." The standards are for two hundred to two hundred and fifty packages an hour, this was far more than that.

They truly do not abide by any labor safety regulations. The company "does not care for health and safety of it's employees." They have very few step ladders for employees to safely climb to reach pallets

A lot of the equipment at the plant is broken, and a year ago an eighteen year old employee was killed on the plant, when two forklifts hit him. One of Martinez's friends recently was hit at work by a forklift, and was told to take some pain pills and keep working.

What he and his friends are asking is for better wages, he cannot support himself and his two daughters on this. They are also asking for better working conditions and the equipment and training they need. That is all they are asking. For doing this, they have faced retaliations, threats, suspensions, and even a threat of termination.

Charlene Tubta by Nadin Abbott

In an interview before the march proper reached the Sherman Heights Farmers Market, Charlene Tubta, who works at VONS, told me that she grew up in the area. She said that "Walmart will ruin local business, small business owners. They are gonna hurt."

Tupta aded that Walmart uses cheap labor. "They don't provide benefits, unless the employees pay for very expensive benefits." She added, "from what I understand they push people for food stamps and welfare and they only work enough hours so they can qualify."

They also provide "cheap jobs with no security since they are an at will employee."

Jose Alvarado Flores by Nadin Abbott

  Jose Alvarado Flores told me that "I came to support the marchers." He is an SEIU member, and he received the message through the Union. He added, that one bus came all the way from Ontario, (these are the warehouse workers above).

  "Viva La Prole!" (Long live the common people!)

Richard Barrera, who is a member of the San Diego Unified School board, reminded the audience that good jobs, meaning people don't need two to three jobs to barely survive, allow their children to grow up into productive citizens. He also said that "we need partners that will create real jobs." This is why the school board passed the first Project Labor Agreement (PLA) to rebuild the schools. This means "apprenticeships in construction from the community of Sherman Heights."

There were screams from the crowd that they were going to unionize Walmart. That this was not going to be a blue Walmart but a yellow one. This came from the UFCW contingent.

Barrera closed with some stirring words. "We don want you to set up a store where you exploit our parents and then throw some money to charity."

Labor is awakening across the nation, and this is what we are starting to see.

The group was also serenaded by a Mariachi band and by the Women Occupy San Diego     

Submitters Bio:

Writer, blogger, journalist, based in San Diego. Started doing this with Occupy and has grown from there. As a trained historian I was struck by Occupy, which will be considered an important moment in US History, at leaset in my opinion.