Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bissell’s Dirty Secret: Workers Protest Bissell Warehouse in Response to Mass Firing

We recently received word from the labor organizers in Chicago about the unjust action taken against workers at a Bissell warehouse just outside of Chicago.

Employees at the Bissell warehouse near Joliet, arrived to work at 6am today only to be informed they were all fired, but not before they trained their replacements.

Workers were fired en masse after filing legal complaints and charges last week over the many violations of state and federal law in the warehouse. On Thursday October 29th workers notified management that they had formed a union.

“This company has no respect for our rights. We will fight to force Bissell and Maersk to follow the law and treat workers with dignity,” said Anthony Bailey a forklift driver at the Bissell facility. “I will not accept losing my job because I stood up for my rights.”

The warehouse has been using an unregistered temporary employment agency that had systematically violated many state and federal laws, including paying some workers less than minimum wage.

Workers also cited racial discrimination, unpaid wages and threats of retaliation for bringing these issues to management’s attention.

The Bissell warehouse, managed by Maersk Logistics, opened in January 2009 and is part of the expanding distribution industry in Chicago’s suburbs. It supplies Bissell vacuum cleaners to big box retailers including Walmart and Target.

Today in Grand Rapids, 5 people in solidarity with the fired warehouse workers delivered a letter to the CEO of Bissell to express their opposition with the treatment of workers. The letter read in part:

bissell 1

As you should know, it is illegal to retaliate against employees for filing complaints under federal and state laws. These workers have lost their jobs after exposing unlawful practices at your warehouse and in fact may have been retaliated against for exercising their legal rights. As members of the Grand Rapids community, we hold Bissell accountable for worker abuse and sweatshop conditions in your supply chain. We urge you to retain all of the workers, many of whom have worked at your facility since it opened in January.

The Bissell CEO refused to meet with people from the community, but they were told an assistant would meet with them. After a 5-minute wait someone did come down to talk with the group and listen to their object to the treatment of workers in the Bissell warehouse. The person said that they would give the letter to the CEO, but could not answer any of the questions asked, because he was just “a security guard” for the company. So, not only would the CEO refused to speak to people, the secretarial staff deceived the community members by sending a security guard to speak with them.

Organized Protest

However, the efforts to pressure Bissell have just begun and the community members present, in conjunction with the Chicago labor organizers, are calling for a protest at the Bissell facilities located at 2345 Walker NW in Grand Rapids.

This Wednesday, November 11 beginning at 4pm, people will gather with signs in solidarity with the workers who were fired from the Bissell warehouse outside of Chicago. Please help us spread the word and consider joining the protest.