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Walmart sign on store.
Lawyers for warehouse workers in a class action against the contractors who run warehouses for Walmart are trying to add Walmart itself to the suit. The warehouse in question is owned by Walmart and exclusively moves Walmart goods, but the company claims that because it contracts with Schneider Logistics (which in turn contracts with staffing agencies) to run and staff the warehouse, Walmart can't be held responsible for the wage theft, safety violations, and other abuses found there.

David Moberg explains:

The updated charges included six theories supporting the claim that Walmart is legally a joint employer and shares liabilities with the contractors, arguing that the relationship is not that between an arm's length provider of services or goods, like a painting contractor or bookkeeping firm that a small business might hire. The amendment to the lawsuit calls Schneider "closely-controlled" by Walmart—until last year most if not all Schneider managers had walmart.com e-mail addresses—and notes that a Walmart-owned security firm is responsible for protecting the warehouse.

The attorneys said the facts uncovered in their investigation showed that the "economic realities" of the operation of the warehouse establish Walmart's legal resposibility. As Kish and Rubin said, Walmart owns the warehouse, owns all the equipment and supplies, uses the same systems as in warehouses it directly operates, and not only had its own employees in the warehouse overseeing operations but also conducted regular audits that became the basis for changes in operations.

Workers say they "were routinely forced to work off the clock, denied legally required overtime pay, and retaliated against when they tried to assert their legal rights, or even asked how their paychecks had been calculated."

A fair day's wage

  • Locked out American Crystal Sugar workers face a tough choice this weekend—a choice between two different kinds of loss. The workers have been locked out for 16 months as the company has tried to rid itself of a union contract its CEO compared to a tumor. Workers have three times rejected company proposals entailing massive concessions, and this weekend they vote again. Take concessions or stay locked out, with unemployment benefits having run out. The company isn't budging even though its profits have slipped substantially during the lockout.
  • The invaluable Sarah Jaffe on Thursday's fast food strike in New York City:
    What we've seen with Walmart and now with the fast food workers is an independent organization, supported by traditional labor unions (in this case, the Service Employees International Union along with New York Communities for Change, United NY, and the Black Institute), can be more creative in its organizing tactics. Lerner is particularly inspired by the one-day strike that the workers are undertaking today. "The old strike, you used to go out and stay out until you win. But the workers now are so angry and mistreated an the way you express that is short-term walkouts."

    In the Walmart strikes, in the Justice for Janitors campaign, and now in New York, Lerner noted, organizers have moved to find strategies that make sense to workers, that aren't trapped in the same old formulations that worked in factories but don't make sense for food service. "The key thing is not letting how workers organize be defined by the legal regime which has not only failed to protect workers but also was constructed for a very different kind of workplace," Lerner said.

  • National Labor Relations Board, good for workers and bad. The NLRB has filed a complaint against Hyatt for firing workers in Baltimore in retaliation for their union activity. But the board didn't take action against Palermo's Pizza's mass firing of immigrant workers and didn't order the company to enter into collective bargaining.
  • Here's something you don't see every day: Joe Lueken, owner of two Minnesota grocery stores, is retiring. And he's leaving the business to the workers:
    "My employees are largely responsible for any success I've had, and they deserve to get some of the benefits of that," Lueken told the Star Tribune. "You can't always take. You also have to give back."
    Plenty of business owners would totally disagree with him about that; after all, the Wall Street economy is pretty much entirely about always taking and never giving back. Which makes it especially nice to hear Lueken's stance.
  • HEI Hotels has settled with 18 workers for $130,000 for denying them meal and rest breaks in violation of California law.
  • Workers at Manhattan's Hot and Crusty have a collective bargaining agreement after a two-month shutdown intended to kill their union. Hot and Crusty will reopen December 17.
  • The Supreme Court is considering who counts as a supervisor. Is it just the person who hired you and can fire you, or is it someone who exerts control over your daily work even if they can't fire you? This is a question with major stakes for harassment cases.
  • Ten facts retailers don't want you to know about online shopping (though if you read Daily Kos Labor with any regularity you know most of them already)
  • It's illegal to not pay someone to do an actual job, a job just like any of your employees would do only for no pay. Yet a federal judge is looking for someone to do the exact same work as his paid clerks, but for free.
  • American Airlines tried to cut costs by having a non-union contractor install some airplane seats rather than using its own unionized maintenance crews. The seats came loose, having been installed by people who didn't actually know how to install them.
  • Here's a very nice thing that didn't come without struggle:
    Of the $11 billion in construction bonds approved in California this November, the largest portion by far came from the $2.8 billion property tax measure (Proposition Z) to finance current and future facility needs for the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD). It is also one of the largest projects in the region to include local hire for construction workers residing in the lowest income areas of the school district.

The War on Education

  • Some good news out of Louisiana:
    A Louisiana state judge sided today with opponents of Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s sweeping private school voucher program, ruling that it is unconstitutional because it improperly diverts public state and local money intended for public schools to private institutions.
  • The Department of Education has had to tell Pennsylvania that it can't assess charter schools by easier rules than traditional public schools. And when the Arne Duncan Department of Education says you're being too favorable to charter schools, you're really being too favorable to charter schools.

Miscellaneous

  • Back in 2010, it came out that New Hampshire Republican Charlie Bass, then running to regain the congressional seat he had lost in 2006, had set up a meeting during the Bush years between Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman and the president of New England Wood Pellet to discuss getting funding for a rebate on alternative energy systems. Routine enough stuff, except that the president of the company was married to Bass's niece, and Bass was or soon became an investor in New England Wood Pellet. Now that Bass is once again on his way out of Congress, why am I bringing this up? Only because of this:
    The Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited New England Wood Pellet LLC in April in connection with explosions and fires in October 2011 that took more than 100 firefighters from 12 towns to put down. Inspectors found numerous hazards, including the absence of protective devices and a buildup of sawdust throughout the plant.
    The company will pay $100,000 fine.
  • Condolences to his family and friends:
    Marvin Miller, the soft-spoken union head who led baseball players in a series of strikes and legal battles that won free agency, revolutionized sports and turned athletes into multimillionaires, died Tuesday. He was 95.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Sat Dec 01, 2012 at 10:55 AM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions and Daily Kos.

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