About 600 people turned out Monday in Elwood, Illinois for a sit-in protest against alleged mistreatment of warehouse workers employed by Walmart contractor RoadLink. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that 17 peaceful protesters were arrested by police in riot gear after they sat in the middle of a road and blocked vehicles from accessing the warehouse.
Activists with Warehouse Workers for Justice went on strike outside of the Walmart Distribution Center in Elwood on September 15, claiming the working conditions are unsafe and that RoadLink engages in unfair labor practices like wage theft and sexual harassment.
Participants in the protest weren't just warehouse workers: local unions and community groups joined in as well, hoping to provide moral support to the group after they filed a federal lawsuit against RoadLink in September.
By the time activists sat in the road, police declared the entire event to be an "unlawful assembly," then threatened to deploy chemical weapons and "less lethal munitions" against the group. The militarized police unit even brought what appeared to be a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), designed to disperse protesters by blasting them with extremely loud noise. The officers ultimately didn't resort to violence, opting to walk arrested activists away one by one instead.
The Illinois strike is the second action launched by Walmart warehouse workers in recent weeks. A group of minimum-wage warehouse workers in California staged a 15-day walkout protest last month, but it ended after participants said they exhausted their financial resources.
Walmart spokesperson Dan Fogleman told the Sun-Times that he believed Monday's demonstration was more about growing union dues than expanding workers' rights. "The union is focused on fulfilling its own agenda," he reportedly said.
This video is from The Chicago Sun-Times, published Tuesday, October 2, 2012.
Photo: Screenshot via The Chicago Sun-Times.