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Inland Empire Walmart warehouse workers end 6-day Ontario-to-LA march to protest unsafe conditions

Ralliers show support for warehouse workers who completed a six-day march from Ontario to Los Angeles on Tuesday. The workers protested unsafe working conditions at a Walmart distribution center in the Riverside area. Ashley Bailey/KPCC

Warehouse workers from the Inland Empire ended a six-day, 50-mile march Tuesday from Ontario to Los Angeles — in sometimes triple-digit heat — to protest what they say are unsafe working conditions at a Walmart distribution center in the Riverside area.

A crowd of supporters from Warehouse Workers United and other local employee unions and lawmakers greeted the few dozen workers outside L.A. City Hall.

Raymond Castillo, 23, of Colton says it was a difficult but necessary decision to leave his job and join the march.

“I have a wife and a baby to care for, so I have to work, but it’s hard to do it with this job. We have no job security and we are treated with little respect,” he said.

Castillo said he and his co-workers walked off their jobs last week. The Walmart distribution center is managed by a contractor called NFI Industries.

The warehouse workers say there’s no air conditioning there, equipment is broken, they aren’t given breaks and they don’t have access to clean drinking water.

California Labor Secretary Marty Morgenstern showed up at Los Angeles City Hall to show his support for the warehouse workers on behalf of Governor Jerry Brown.

He said the state’s labor commissioner has visited the Inland Empire warehouse and agrees the conditions aren’t up to par.

He said Brown is expected to sign a bill into law this afternoon on behalf of workers in California. AB 1855 requires that companies work out a contract with enough money to pay a fair and legal wage to its workers.

“We know that’s just a start, and it’s a long road, and you’ll have a difficult task in front of you, but we want you to know the Labor Commissioner, the State of California, the Labor Secretary and, most importantly, the Governor, is aware of the situation and is going to do everything in the power of the state of California to see that your rights as workers in the Inland Empire and everywhere are honored by employers,” he said.

Walmart spokesman Dan Fogleman said Walmart strives to maintain high standards in all aspects of its business and takes the workers’ allegations seriously.

“Based on conversations with service providers and first-hand observations during visits to the facilities, our people believe the issues raised were either unfounded or, if legitimate, have been addressed,” he said.

He said the working conditions observed at the Inland Empire warehouse are fairly standard across the third-party distribution facilities that Walmart uses and the company’s own warehouses.

“In reality, this really isn't about Walmart at all, “ he said. “Warehouse Workers United is a union-funded, union-backed organization. Its focus is growing union membership, which yields more revenue. So, while we are working hard to strengthen our commitment to workplace issues, the unions are focused on furthering their own political agenda.”

Fogleman said Walmart is developing a protocol to conduct random inspections of the third-party distribution facilities. They will be done by an independent third party organization to ensure compliance with Walmart’s standards and the law.