According to a workers’ group, intolerable working conditions in a Hammond, Ind., Walmart warehouse during last week’s “polar vortex” caused employees to defy their bosses’ orders and go on spontaneous strike. On January 5th, Linc Logistics—the company subcontracted by Wal-Mart to run the warehouse—allegedly forced employees to work in negative temperatures in the unheated warehouse, notwithstanding a state of weather emergency declared by county officials. Workers say that after management repeatedly denied their requests to leave, they staged a work stoppage and were eventually allowed to depart a few hours early. The confrontation intensifies the ongoing labor strife in the Hammond warehouse. Josh Eidelson of Salon reports: The Warehouse Workers Organizing Committee, a labor group backed by the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America union, started organizing last year against alleged abuses in the Hammond warehouse. (The same group supported 2012’s multi-week work stoppage at Wal-Mart’s top U.S. distribution center, in Elwood, Illinois.) They allege that unaddressed issues including broken dock doors and lack of heaters leave the warehouse’s workers exposed to snow, rain, ice, and freezing temperatures. WWOC organizer Sean Fulkerson told Salon that the facility “had torpedo [gas] heaters before Wal-Mart got the contract,” but “when they switched it over to a Wal-Mart facility they pulled out the heaters” because “they didn’t want to pay the gas bill.” Now, he charged, “people were getting written up for going to the bathroom and trying to warm their hands under their hand driers.”Management kept the warehouse closed on January 6, but reopened the warehouse the next day, at which time one employee reportedly suffered frostbite in the sub-zero temperatures. Workers reported the frostbite case to OSHA and are demanding that the company install heaters.
Danayit Musse is a Spring 2014 editorial intern.