Prices aren’t the only thing that Walmart is known to roll back, as 10 workers fired for taking a five-minute break can attest. Despite the fact that Walmart workers are supposed to get regular, expected breaks , the 10 warehouse workers were fired for, according to the suspension report, taking the breaks while the temperatures were in the 90s. However, the workers believe they were really fired for raising awareness of the poor working conditions at the retailer. This proves beyond all doubt that despite its attempts to improve its image, Walmart is still a villain for the working class. Only one thing is cheaper than their products, and that’s their commitment to workers' rights.
This is certainly not a case of workers taking a heat break; — they took a break to address worker safety. Interviewed workers who had been fired noted that they had been able to take heat breaks of 10-15 minutes, two to three times a day, without a problem. Then, without warning, they were indefinitely suspended.
The fired workers suspect that this may be because they spoke up about the conditions of the Olivet International Warehouse outside of Los Angeles, which is a Walmart supplier warehouse. Complaints included a lack of cool drinking water, overcapacity forklifts, blocked fire exits, collapsing towers of boxes, and actual cameras in workrooms and restrooms. After the complaints were made, corporate consultants came in to tell workers not to vocalize complaints about work conditions. Cameras were additionally installed in worker break rooms.
It seems like something out of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, had it been written today. Terrible conditions, attempts to stifle discussion of conditions, and then firing of workers who do discuss conditions are pretty much the stereotype of draconian corporate actions. Yet they’re true in this case.
The reason this story first saw the light of day at the Huffington Post is that the workers are trying to do something about it. Granted, this isn’t the first time Walmart has targeted protest and civil disobedience in the workplace. Just this week, nine workers and one current employee were arrested for sitting outside the Washington, D.C. Walmart corporate office.
If you support workers and workers rights, it’s hard to support Walmart. With its plethora of problems including anti-union stances, health insurance gauging, and even violations of minimum-wage laws, it's clear the country's biggest retail chain is no friend of its employees. Whether you choose to look past that as a consumer is your choice. Walmart would rather you didn’t know about it altogether though. That’s unacceptable.
The workers and union rights groups who are raising awareness, filing lawsuits, and engaging in civil protests have a David and Goliath challenge ahead of them, but given Walmart’s practices, something has to be done.