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Warehouse workers suspended for taking “heat” breaks

By Peter Levine posted in Law on August 30th, 2013

“We take heat breaks two or three times a day”

Ten workers at a Walmart supplier’s Southern California warehouse said they were suspended indefinitely after taking a five-minute break in temperatures of more than 90 degrees.

“We take heat breaks two or three times a day,” Ricardo Hernandez, an employee of the warehouse, said. “But then on Friday, they told us they were suspending us for taking a heat break.

The workers believe they were suspended from the warehouse in retaliation for previously raising concerns about their working conditions.

This past May the union filed a complaint with the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration alleging blocked fire exits, inadequate access to water, and collapses of towers of boxes. State workers inspected the warehouse following the complaint. The investigation is still ongoing and should conclude about end of November.

Video cameras in employee break rooms

But soon after the inspection, the warehouse installed video cameras in employee break rooms and brought in consultants who advised workers not to discuss working conditions, reported Hernandez.

So in late July about 30 of the roughly 200 workers at the warehouse participated in a 2-day strike to protest what they call intimidation; spying and retaliation for raising concerns about working conditions.

“There’s even [a camera] by the restroom. They can see every time you go the restroom,” Hernandez said. “I think they’re trying to intimidate us, to see every move we make.”

“I want management to hear us and take a walk in our shoes to see what we go through every day. This warehouse is really tough to work in under such hot temperatures with no cool water,” he said, but “they ignore us. They take us as a joke.”

Heidi Baizabal, a single mother of four who had worked at the warehouse for five years before being suspended believes her suspension was as a result of her participation in the July strike and for asking for better working conditions. “I feel bad. I feel depressed because my family depends on this,” Baizabal said.

Guadalupe Palma, director of Warehouse Workers United, said all 10 of the recently suspended workers participated in that two-day strike in late July.
Warehouse Workers United, a labor union that supports the workers but does not officially represent them, filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board for each of the 10 suspended workers.

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