Warehouse Worker Resource Center has invested in improving working conditions in the local warehouse industry since 2011. Based out of Ontario, the nonprofit organizes groups of workers to stand up for living wages, secure employment, and safe workspaces. The organization also serves as a community center where workers and their families can share experiences and learn about their rights.
While unions bargain directly with an employer, WWRC brings workers together and offers them support to advocate for themselves and to learn from peers. Rather than directly representing the workforce, the organization educates warehouse employees on what they are entitled to expect in a safe and healthy work environment, and how to take legal action on their own. Legal services are offered free in Spanish and English.
“This sector was designed to operate over the last 30 years when there was no real vision of workers having a voice,” said Sheheryar Kaoosji, the organization’s executive director. “Not everyone works in goods movement, but everyone is impacted.”
When workers do not have rights, this can cause economic instability in the communities where they live and work, according to Kaoosji. He points out that the regional warehouse industry has been built by big businesses that have the ability to make labor as cheap as possible when workers cannot speak up. If there are high injury rates or unpredictable hours, this can also lead to communities and families that cannot sustain themselves.
There are 200,000 warehouse workers in the Inland Empire and very few resources to help individual workers who have issues, according to Kaoosji. Having support through WWRC gives workers the tools they need to push back and be heard.
The organization has helped working conditions by advocating for indoor heat standards, raising minimum wage, and bringing workers in-house rather than subcontracting or using staffing agencies. The industry would have a lot less scrutiny without the work that WWRC does, Kaoosji said.
“A huge number of people depend on this sector for their livelihoods, and we need to think about what we want to do about that,” he said. “This is a sector that can afford to do the right thing.”
Kaoosji feels that supporting the development of new leaders also builds a better community. When individuals are given the tools to organize, they may discover their ability to make big changes in their own lives and make conditions better for others. Kaoosji said that when someone stands up to their boss and keeps their job it can be a life-changing shift. People may realize they can tackle other injustices in their lives whether that is an unscrupulous landlord or an abusive spouse.
Recently, WWRC received a grant from the Just San Bernardino Fund through the Inland Empire Community Foundation. In addition to supporting warehouse workers, the organization also advocates for healthy economic development, air quality and giving a voice to communities impacted by warehouse development decisions. WWRC depends on grants and community donations to provide support.
WWRC understands the warehouse industry is a key part of the Inland Empire economy, but wants the sector to pull its weight when it comes to the negative costs to the population that it causes.
“People were promised there would be good jobs, but the poverty rate has gone up,” Kaoosji said. “We want the community to know that the people who work in warehouses are amazing people and they should have a voice.”
This article originally appeared in the Press Enterprise, April 2023.
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