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Unsafe workplaces lead distribution center workers to strike

If you shop at your local Michigan Wal-Mart, you may soon have to think about whether you'd be willing to cross a picket line. Although no talks of strikes at local Wal-Marts have been reported, in recent weeks there have been employee walk-outs in two other states. At issue is workplace safety.

The first strike began in California earlier this month when workers at a Wal-Mart distribution center walked off of the job. About a week later, workers at another distribution center in the state went on strike. Though they are not directly employed by Wal-Mart, they are protesting unsafe working conditions. About a week after the later strike, another took place at a Wal-Mart distribution center in the Midwest.

The third strike, which was in Illinois, stemmed from a list of grievances that employees provided to management. Here, the issue was unsafe working conditions in addition to what workers feel are unfair wages and irregular hours. The workers were reportedly suspended after presenting the grievances, and they chose to strike.

Workers at all three distribution centers have said that they work in shipping containers that are dangerously hot; they are forced to use broken and unsafe equipment; and, they work irregular schedules. When they speak out about their right to work in a safe environment, they are reportedly retaliated against.

While none of these three distribution centers are owned by Wal-Mart, a Wal-Mart spokesman told the Huffington Post that the company did investigate the claims, and found them to be untrue. The warehouse conditions, the spokesman said, are similar to those of Wal-Mart-owned warehouses.

Here in Michigan, when someone is injured in a workplace accident, he or she is entitled to workers' compensation whether the employer subjected the worker to unsafe working conditions or not. Because a lot of these warehouse workers are temporary workers, they likely do not have as much protection under their state's workers' compensation laws.

Source: Huffington Post, "Warehouse Workers Strike In Illinois on Heels of California Walkout," Dave Jamieson, Sept. 17, 2012

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