ILEAS, Walmart, and Illinois as a Police State: The Worst of the Worst

Well, at least we know where all those dollars being poured down that rathole on East Washington are going to -- protecting Walmart from "terrorists" -- its own striking workers.


The Worst of the Worst

by Abby Zimet

When about 650 members of community, labor ( and faith organizations rallied today ( in Elwood, Illinois in support of workers at a key Walmart warehouse striking to protest “poverty wages,” sexual harassment, racial discrimination and extreme work conditions, they were met with riot-gear-clad police and the private security Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System Mobile Field Force who surrounded them, arrested ( all 47 who committed civil disobedience ( by sitting in the road, and told the other peaceful protesters to disperse or risk “chemical or less lethal munitions being deployed.”

“They call us bodies and that’s what we feel like.” - Mike Compton, one of the striking warehouse workers.

ILEAS: When All You Have Is a Hammer, Is Every Problem a Nail?

ILEAS is part of the secret police forces in Illinois dramatically expanded after 9/11 and has a close relationship with the Illinois Terrorism Task Force Fusion Center, one of those described as producing "virtually no useful intelligence" in the following report. I guess if you're useless at catching terrorists, you can at least be used to bust a few worker's heads? How is this different than Poland in 1980?

Inquiry Cites Flaws in Counterterrorism Offices

by James Risen

Their scathing report, to be released Wednesday, looked at problems in regional intelligence-gathering offices known as “fusion centers” that are financed by the Department of Homeland Security and created jointly with state and local law enforcement agencies.

The report found that the centers “forwarded intelligence of uneven quality — oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens’ civil liberties and Privacy Act protections, occasionally taken from already published public sources, and more often than not unrelated to terrorism.”

The investigators reviewed 610 reports produced by the centers over 13 months in 2009 and 2010. Of these, the report said, 188 were never published for use within the Homeland Security Department or other intelligence agencies. Hundreds of draft reports sat for months, awaiting review by homeland security officials, making much of their information obsolete. And some of the reports appeared to be based on previously published information or facts that had on long since been reported through the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The Congressional investigators also found that the reports were often derided by homeland security analysts who reviewed the work. “I see nothing to be gained by releasing this report,” one analyst wrote repeatedly on several draft reports.

“This report does not provide the who, what, when, where, how,” another official complained about a document.

The investigators also discovered that federal officials cannot account for as much as $1.4 billion in taxpayer money earmarked for fusion centers and that some of the centers listed on paper by the Homeland Security Department do not even exist.

The report also lays out problems in protecting citizens’ privacy as the centers gathered and disseminated intelligence.

The Department of Homeland Security provided only one week of training to officials assigned to sift through tips and uncorroborated information about American citizens that came into their offices.

In a 2009 e-mail discovered by the Senate investigators, one department official warned that the fusion centers were collecting information on Americans “without proper vetting,” and were “improperly reporting this information through homeland information reporting channels.”

More broadly, the flaws uncovered by the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations raise questions about the role of the Department of Homeland Security in the nation’s fight against terrorism, and whether the department can ever live up to its original purpose of “connecting the dots” to prevent another surprise like the Sept. 11 attacks.

The report on the dysfunctional nature of the fusion centers makes clear that in the decade since the department was created, Homeland Security has not carved out a clear counterterror mission that does not overlap with those of other agencies.

Top officials of the Homeland Security Department have known about the problems for years, but hid an internal department report on the program’s flaws from Congress while continuing to tell lawmakers and the public that the fusion centers were highly valuable and that they formed the centerpiece of Homeland Security’s counter-terrorism efforts. A 2010 internal assessment by the department discovered, for instance, that four of its claimed 72 fusion centers did not exist, even as department officials kept using the 72 figure publicly with Congress.

Homeland Security officials disputed the findings of the Senate investigators. Matthew Chandler, a department spokesman, said the Senate report “is out of date, inaccurate and misleading.” He said the investigators “refused to review relevant data, including important intelligence information pertinent to their findings.”

When it was created, the Department of Homeland Security was supposed to function as a central clearinghouse for terrorism-related intelligence, to solve what was supposed to be one of the big problems identified in the government’s failure to prevent 9/11 — a lack of intelligence sharing between the F.B.I., the Central Intelligence Agency and other agencies.

But almost immediately, the George W. Bush administration created other organizations to do much the same thing. Today, the central clearinghouse is the National Counterterrorism Center, part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Department officials soon began angling to find something else to do. They hit on the idea of taking charge of intelligence sharing between the federal government and state and local law enforcement agencies, and by 2006, fusion centers were being set up across the country.

However, state and local law enforcement agencies already were working with the F.B.I. in regional counterterror units called Joint Terrorism Task Forces, which were responsible for handling terrorism-related criminal cases. The fusion centers quickly became a black hole for taxpayer money, the Senate investigators found. The fusion centers were run by state and local officials, but were funded through grants to states from the Federal Emergency Management Agency with little oversight. That made it easy for state and local officials to divert the federal money earmarked for the centers to other things, including sport utility vehicles and dozens of flat-screen televisions for use by state and local agencies.

The dysfunction of the centers could sometimes have bizarre and comic results. Last November, for example, an Illinois center reported that Russian hackers had broken into the computer system of a local water district in Springfield and sent computer commands that triggered a water pump to burn out. But it turned out that a repair technician had remotely accessed the water district’s computer system while he was on vacation in Russia.

Sometimes the fusion center’s mistakes were more serious. In the wake of the January 2011 shootings in Tucson that killed six and wounded others, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona center issued a report filled with inaccurate information about the gunman’s alleged connections to an anti-Semitic and antigovernment group.

“Homeland Security is probably the most ineffective agency in the government besides Social Security,” said Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma and the ranking minority member on the investigative subcommittee that published the report. The fusion centers, he added, “are not accomplishing anything in terms of counterterrorism.”

Copyright 2012 The New York Times


ILEAS and the Cozy Insider Crowd of Illinois Secret Police

Festering through 40 years of pointless, failed "drug war" the infusion of cash into the secret police that keep us in line for the 1% turned into a flood with the excuse of 9/11. While the ITTF and ILEAS aren't quite the same thing, they're joined at the hip with interlocking boards, joint management of lucrative grants, and considerable overlap in duties, which in any other industry would reuslt in consolidations, cutbacks, and layoffs.

But that's not the case when it comes to funding state repression in the name of keeping us "safe." In fact, in Illinois the secret police brag about their close relationship with private industry, like, say, Walmart security?


A few states, such as Illinois and Delaware, have succeeded in formally sharing nonclassified products with private-sector stakeholders. States where fusion center operators and private security officials have achieved some level of collaboration say it took a lot of work and is largely the result of having built up trusted relationships.
Illinois’ fusion center, the Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center (STIC), coordinates the state’s Infrastructure Security Awareness Program, through which 180 members from 111 different companies receive electronic bulletins on current threats, according to Illinois State Police spokesman Lt. Scott Compton. To further public/private communication, this year STIC established a position for a private-sector critical infrastructure specialist funded by the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System and the ASIS International Foundation, Inc.
Isn't it reassuring to you as an Illinois taxpayer to know that Walmart can pick up the phone and say, "Send us some goons, we're going to have some heads to crack next week"? Gotta keep prices low somehow...
Now, if you're a "law enforcement professional" just looking for an easy one-day junket, you're invited to an ILEAS seminar to help you understand how to hook-up with the ITTF Fusion Center, just in case workers in yoru community or campus are getting a little feisty with all those layoffs, unemployment benefit cuts, cuts in food stamps, cust in education, cuts, cuts, cuts as far as the eye can see....well they're going to need a a LOT of cops. Because that's the one place you can find a good-paying job in this state. It sure ain't sweating for Walmart.
Sign up today. You can spend the other two hours of your shift at the donut shop. yeah, we've got those in Urbana. And obviosuly if those Fusion Centers haven't produced a single thing worth a damn, then you'll also be able to talk shop, like how to increase marijuana and jaywalking arrests in minority neighborhoods. It's not like they're expecting you to work the whole six hours, don't ya' know?
Like any truly worthless activity, police "intelligence" work can be milked for academic purposes. For instance, here's a 2008 paper, no doubt done on the Illinois taxpayer's dime, that discusses exactly what to do if you don't come up with any actually useful intelligence after millions of dolalrs spent.:
Because you gotta have some excuse to keep the milk and honey flowing when everyone else in soceity is trying to figure out where their next meal is coming from.
If you want to read more about this latest, wasteful boondoogle from Illinois Government, read all about it here:
Illinois: Where government can't do anything else right, except lock up two of our latest ex-governors...Oh? You say that was the feds? OK, I guess Illinois only gets credit for locking up thousands of its minority citizens.
I can't help but notice again that the secret police, coordinated through ILEAS, still have something they can brag abaout:
Good show so far, ILEAS/ITTF!
Terrorists = 0
Strikers = 47

ILEAS has been a wonderful

ILEAS has been a wonderful resource for coordinating the efforts of local emergency management organizations. This isn't all about police. When the Mississippi flooded in Cairo, ILEAS training helped coordinate the response.

Those "Wonderful" Jackboots

If ILEAS stick to rescuing folks in floods and picking up after tornadoes, I doubt anyone would have a problem with them. Really, though, do we need police to act as civil defense? That's more of the typical bonehead thinking that goes on in Illinois government. If you need police, then call them, but militarizing gov't services by consolidating them into a paramilitary force is just creepy and unAmerican.

We sure as hell don't need paramilitary strikebreakers.

ACLU Calls for Hearings on Fusion Centers Following SenateReport

October 3, 2012
3:34 PM

Josh Bell, (212) 549-2666;

ACLU Calls for Hearings on Fusion Centers Following Senate Report

WASHINGTON - October 3 - The American Civil Liberties Union today called on Congress to hold hearings to investigate rampant civil liberties violations in the fusion centers funded by the Department of Homeland Security. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs permanent subcommittee on investigations released a report today on the centers, which were originally created to improve the sharing of counterterrorism information among different state, local and federal law enforcement agencies.

“We hope that continuing oversight and stronger regulation will prohibit law enforcement intelligence collection without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity,” said Michael German, senior policy counsel in the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office. “The ACLU warned back in 2007 that fusion centers posed grave threats to Americans' privacy and civil liberties, and that they needed clear guidelines and independent oversight. This report is a good first step, and we call upon Congress to hold public hearings to investigate fusion centers and their ongoing abuses.”

Starting in 2007, the ACLU issued reports warning that the lack of public oversight regarding the centers and their work put Americans’ privacy at risk.

“Law enforcement has long abused its perceived intelligence authorities to spy on people because of their beliefs and political activities rather than evidence of wrongdoing, and the subcommittee report confirms that this problem continues today,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s national security project. “History has shown that police powers exercised in secret are often abused, and the ACLU previously identified excessive secrecy surrounding the development of fusion centers as one of the primary threats to civil liberties. These centers need to be accountable to federal, state and local governments, and, most importantly, to the public they serve.”

The ACLU is currently litigating a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking documents about a federal program to share information with the fusion centers called eGuardian, which is the FBI’s nationwide system of collecting and sharing so-called “Suspicious Activity Reports” from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

More information on fusion centers at:

The complaint in the ACLU’s eGuardian FOIA lawsuit is at:


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

ACLU Links:

Boston Police Caught Spying on Local Peace Groups

ACLU reveals mass of surveillance data on First Amendment activities
by Common Dreams staff

Boston police have been caught red-handed spying on citizens engaged in lawful, protest activities. Documents and surveillance videos show local law enforcement routinely monitoring demonstrations and "internal dynamics" of activists groups, even if there is no indication of criminal activity.

The ACLU cites a specific report detailing an anti-war rally at a congregational church featuring the late Boston University Professor Howard Zinn, former city councilor Felix D. Arroyo and war activist Cindy Sheehan. The document was categorized under the label: "Criminal Act: Groups-Extremist."

According to a press release from the ACLU:

The documents reveal that officers assigned to the Boston Police Department's regional domestic spying center, the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC), file so-called "intelligence reports" mischaracterizing peaceful groups such as Veterans for Peace, United for Justice with Peace and CodePink as "extremists," and peaceful protests as domestic "homeland security" threats and civil disturbances.

"The collection of information by BPD contributes to Homeland Security fusion centers storing of details on constitutionally-protected activities being engaged in by citizens", writes Kevin Gosztola for Firedoglake ( The officers are said to monitor activities such as "protestors plans to 'pass out fliers promoting their cause,'" and document communication "between officers from BRIC and the Metro DC Intelligence Section during which the officials discuss how many activists from the Northeast attended a Washington, DC peace rally."

"Spying on church groups and peaceful, non-violent, political gatherings violates civil liberties, wastes scarce police resources and doesn't keep us safe," said Carol Rose, Executive Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.

After the BPD initially refused public requests to see their surveillance files, the documents were turned over the to ACLU and National Lawyer's Guild (NLG) when the organizations sued for access on behalf of local peace groups and activists. The files had been retained for years, violating federal regulations that reports must be purged in 90 days if they are not connected with criminal or terrorist activity.

"We are becoming a country with characteristics typically seen in the most undemocratic states—where police and other law enforcement forces assume unlimited powers over the people," said Urszula Masny-Latos, Executive Director of the National Lawyers Guild.

This comes on the heels of a recent Senate subcommittee report that found regional fusion centers had not “produced useful intelligence to support federal counterterrorism efforts" and, instead, amassed documentation described as "oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens' civil liberties and Privacy Act protections."

Along with their report, the ACLU released a video ( in which they feature individuals who were either targeted or are part of groups that appeared in the “intelligence reports.” They discuss the threatening nature of this surveillance and the growing reluctance and fear against taking part in lawful, first amendment protest.

When Police Spy on Free Speech, Democracy Suffers

by Carol Rose

Psst! Check out this super-secret Boston Police "intelligence report":

"Local activists have been trying to get 'celebrity guest speakers' (Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon) for the March 24th demonstration, but at this time it appears that they have been unable to book any of these speakers for their event."

But some well-known speakers will be there ( According to this intelligence report," compiled by the Boston police under the heading "Criminal Act--Groups-Extremists," among them will be Cindy Sheehan and a "BU professor emeritus/activist" whose name is redacted--it was the late Howard Zinn.

These excerpts come from one of several documents and videotapes obtained through a lawsuit brought against the Boston Police Department by the ACLU of Massachusetts and Massachusetts Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. We are making these criminal "intelligence" reports public today, along with a report ( analyzing its significance--and a video of some of the peace activists who have been targeted (

We now have proof of what peace groups and activists have long suspected: Boston Police officers have worked within the local fusion spying center, the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC), to monitor the lawful political activity of local peace groups and track their movements and beliefs ( This information has been retained in searchable electronic "intelligence" reports bearing labels such as "Groups - Civil Disturbance," "Groups--Extremists," "HomeSec-Domestic" under the heading "Criminal Act."

Under what interpretation of the US and Massachusetts Constitutions can the non-violent First Amendment activity of groups like Veterans for Peace and United for Justice with Peace be routinely classified as a criminal act?

If you have glanced at the US Senate subcommittee report on fusion centers ( that came out earlier this month, you may not be surprised to hear that Boston's fusion center has been collecting dubious "intelligence" and violating civil liberties in the process.

Fusion centers were set up in the aftermath of 9/11 to facilitate the sharing of "terrorism-related" information among local, state, and federal law enforcement and private entities. But the Senate subcommittee report finds that the nation's 70 or so fusion centers (the exact number is in dispute--DHS, which contributed the seed funding for the centers, doesn't know how many exist today) have not uncovered a single terrorist plot.

Indeed, the spying centers have produced "nothing of value," and instead needlessly duplicate the "more efficient information-sharing process already in place between local police and the FBI-led Terrorist Screening Center."

Their output is often, in the words of one government official, "a bunch of crap."

Much of it is also "potentially illegal," according to the US Senate report, because it falls foul of federal privacy regulations and Department of Homeland Security guidelines that forbid the routine monitoring of groups and individuals unless there is reason to suspect them of criminal activity.

The BRIC's own guidelines say the same thing.

And yet we now know that the BRIC, local and state police and the FBI have worked together to monitor and create "intelligence reports" on groups and individuals where there is no demonstrated link to crime or terrorism. There are indications that these illegal reports have been shared around the country, just how widely we don't know.

Given the secrecy surrounding the "information-sharing" surveillance systems that have been erected since 9/11 and the lack of any accountability mechanisms, we can't determine exactly where reports generated by the BRIC end up. Inaccurate information could have found a permanent home in a myriad government--and even private--databases, with harm to lives that can never be repaired.

The documents ( we received in response to our lawsuit demonstrate that the BRIC cannot effectively police itself.

According to the BRIC's guidelines, "intelligence reports" that do not reference criminal activity should be destroyed after 90 days. And yet we obtained reports ( that should never have been written in the first place and were still being retained after five years. Why should it take an ACLU/NLG lawsuit to highlight the BRIC's failure to enforce its own rules?

We know the political surveillance revealed in these documents wastes scarce tax dollars and police resources that would be better focused on building community trust and solving actual crimes.

And we know that political spying is bad for democracy.

You can view this videotape to hear some of the peace activists who have been monitored by the police or questioned about their personal beliefs talk about the "chilling impact" such surveillance can have on such core American values as freedom of expression and assembly.

Today, we are calling on the Boston Police to cease the routine surveillance of peaceful protests and the monitoring of individuals who take part in them.

And we are asking you to join us in demanding that reforms are put in place ( to ensure that there will be no policing of dissent in Massachusetts.

Let's work together to ensure that our Commonwealth--and all of America--remains a Constitutionally protected free speech zone.

© 2012 ACLU

Carol Rose is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. A lawyer and journalist, Carol has spent her career working for and writing about human rights and civil liberties, both in the United States and abroad.

Los Angeles Walmart Workers on Strike

October 4, 2012
1:45 PM

CONTACT: Making Change at Walmart
Dawn Le, 202-549-6798

Los Angeles Walmart Workers on Strike
With Protests America’s Largest Retailer Expanding Nationwide, Los Angeles Walmart Workers Walk Off Job
For the First Time in History, Walmart Faces a Strike Over its Illegal Retaliation and Attempts to Silence Associates who are Speaking out for Better Jobs

LOS ANGELES - October 4 - As communities across the country raise their voices in calls for changes at Walmart, workers from nearly a dozen stores in the Los Angeles-area went on strike this morning in the first-ever Walmart Associate walk-out in protest of attempts to silence and retaliate against workers for speaking out for improvements on the job. Hundreds of community supporters, including Dr. Jose Moreno, Executive Director of Los Amigos, Maria Elena Durazo, Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Rev. Eric Lee, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, are joining Walmart Associates in their ongoing calls on Walmart and Chairman Rob Walton to address take home pay so low that Associates are forced to rely on public programs to support their families and understaffing that is keeping workers from receiving sufficient hours and is also hurting customer service. The company has not only refused to address these concerns that are affecting 1.4 million Associates across the country, it has attempted to silence those who speak out and has retaliated against workers for raising concerns that would to help the company, workers and the community.

“Walmart should not be silencing workers for standing up for what’s good for my store, my co-workers, my family and my community,” said Venanzi Luna, a striking worker at the Pico Rivera Walmart. Luna is one of thousands of members of OUR Walmart (, the nationwide Associate organization calling for changes at the company. “I am striking to take a stand against Walmart’s illegal bullying tactics.”

The group protested outside the Pico Rivera store with signs reading, “Stand Up, Live Better, Stop Retaliation” and “Stop Trying to Silence Us.” They will be meeting with Walmart workers from nine countries – where workers all have union representation – to launch the UNI Walmart Global Union Alliance to fight for fairness, decent working conditions, and the fundamental human right of freedom of association, including allowing workers who want to join a union if they choose to. This comes as workers striking at Walmart controlled warehouses were joined by hundreds of clergy and community supporters, some of whom were arrested by riot police ( during the peaceful protest. Warehouse workers in Southern California ( were on a 15-day strike that included a six-day, 50-mile pilgrimage for safe jobs. This week, OUR Walmart members shared concerns ( about the scheduling and staffing problems to a room full of financial analysts. And, in Dallas ( and San Diego (, hundreds of people recently held marches calling on Walmart to make changes that help rebuild the economy

“We cannot stand by while the country’s largest employer tries to silence workers who stand up for a better future for their families,” said Maria Elena Durazo, Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. Durazo along with communities across the country have been calling for changes through a Unified Call to Change Walmart ( “We are here to tell Walmart the company must change the way it treats workers and our community. Our city and our country need big profitable corporations like Walmart and billionaires like the Waltons to take responsibility for rebuilding our economy – and stop squeezing the middle class to the breaking point.”

As front line Walmart workers are facing these hardships, the company is raking in almost $16 billion a year in profits, executives made more than $10 million each in compensation last year. Meanwhile, the Walton Family ( – heirs to the Walmart fortune – are the richest family in the country with more wealth than the bottom 42% of American families combined.

“Workers at the country’s largest company should not be forced to rely on public programs just to keep food on the table,” said Rev. Eric Lee, Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “People who work hard should be able to afford the basic necessities. Instead of sweeping these issues under the rug, Walmart and its leader Rob Walton must take responsibility for building a better America.”

Energy around the calls for Walmart to change its treatment of workers and communities has been building. In just one year, OUR Walmart, the unique workers’ organization founded by Walmart Associates, has grown from a group of 100 Walmart workers to an army of thousands of Associates in hundreds of stores across 43 states. Together, OUR Walmart members have been leading the way in calling for an end to double standards that are hurting workers, communities and our economy.

The alleged Mexican bribery scandal, uncovered by the New York Times, has shined a light on the failure of internal controls within Walmart that extend to significant breaches of compliance in stores and along the company’s supply chain. The company is facing yet another gender discrimination lawsuit on behalf of 100,000 women in California and in Tennessee. In the company’s warehousing system, in which Walmart has continually denied responsibility for the working conditions for tens of thousands of people who work for warehouses where they move billions of dollars of goods, workers are facing rampant wage theft and health and safety violations so extreme that they have led to an unprecedented $600,000 in fines. The Department of Labor fined a Walmart seafood supplier for wage and hour violations, and Human Rights Watch has spoken out about the failures of controls in regulating suppliers overseas, including a seafood supplier in Thailand where trafficking and debt bondage were cited.

Financial analysts are also joining the call for Walmart to create better checks and balances, transparency and accountability that will protect workers and communities and strengthen the company. At the company’s annual shareholder meeting in Bentonville, OUR Walmart member Jackie Goebel brought a stadium full of shareholders to their feet applauding her call for an end to the short staffing that’s hurting workers and customer service. A resolution proposed by Associate-shareholders to rein in executive pay received unprecedented support, and major pension funds that voted their shares against Walmart CEO and members of the board this June amounting to a ten-fold increase, and overall 1 in 3 shares not held by the Walton family against the company’s leadership.

These widespread problems have also thwarted Walmart’s plans for growth, particularly in urban markets. Calling the company a “bad actor,” New York City mayoral candidates have all been outspoken in their opposition to Walmart entering the city without addressing labor and community relations’ problems. This month, the city’s largest developer announced an agreement with a union-grocery store at a site that Walmart had hoped would be its first location in New York. In Los Angeles, mayoral candidates are refusing to accept campaign donations from the deep pockets of Walmart, and in Boston, Walmart was forced to suspend its expansion into the city after facing significant community opposition.


Workers Fight for Justice, From Wal-Mart to Chipotle

by Amy Goodman

The great recession of 2008, this global economic meltdown, has wiped out the life savings of so many people and created a looming threat of chronic unemployment for millions. This is happening while corporate coffers are brimming with historically high levels of cash on hand, in both the “too big to fail” banks and in nonfinancial corporations. Despite unemployment levels that remain high, and the anxiety caused by people living paycheck to paycheck, many workers in the United States are taking matters into their own hands, demanding better working conditions and better pay. These are the workers who are left unmentioned in the presidential debates, who remain uninvited into the corporate news networks’ gilded studios. These are the workers at Wal-Mart, the largest private employer in the United States. These are the tomato pickers from Florida. With scant resources, armed with their courage and the knowledge that they deserve better, they are organizing and getting results.

This week, Wal-Mart workers launched the first strike against the giant retailer in its 50-year history, with protests and picket lines at 28 stores across 12 states. Many of these nonunion workers are facing retaliation from their employer, despite the protections that exist on paper through the National Labor Relations Board. The strikers are operating under the banner of OUR Walmart: Organization United for Respect at Wal-Mart, started with support from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. OUR Walmart members protested outside Wal-Mart’s “Meeting for the Investment Community 2012” in Bentonville, Ark. Demanding a stop to the company’s retaliations, the group promised a vigorous national presence at Wal-Mart stores on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and the largest retail shopping day of the year. The workers have an impressive array of allies ready to join them, including the National Organization for Women.

Wal-Mart has historically shrouded its business practices by engaging subcontractors to perform tasks like warehousing and delivery. In Elwood, Ill., warehouse workers employed by Wal-Mart subcontractor RoadLink went out on strike immediately after a similar strike in California. According to Warehouse Workers for Justice (WWJ), “warehouse workers labor under extreme temperatures, lifting thousands of boxes that can weigh up to 250lbs each. Workplace injuries are common; workers rarely earn a living wage or have any benefits.”

According to WWJ, after 21 days on strike in Elwood, the workers “won their principal demand for an end to illegal retaliation against workers protesting poor conditions. They will return to work ... with full pay for the time they were on strike.”

I spoke with one of the Elwood strikers, Mike Compton, who described just one of the awful conditions they endured at their low-wage job:

"We have a big problem with dust. You know, all our containers that we unload come from China, and they’re just filled with black dust. It’s horrible, breathing the stuff in all day, you know, and we’d have to ask seven, eight times to get a dust mask. We’d just be pointed in different directions, to a different manager, to a different department. And half the time we’d walk away empty-handed at the end of it anyway. We’ve actually had trailers that were labeled ‘defumigated in Mexico.’ We don’t know why. People have had trouble breathing in the trailers. You know, dust—something as simple and as cheap as a dust mask should just be readily available to anyone, in my opinion, especially a company as wealthy as Wal-Mart.”

Compton was in Bentonville, Ark., Wal-Mart’s corporate headquarters, to protest at the Wal-Mart investor meeting

Meanwhile, immigrant farmworkers have for generations labored under brutal conditions, picking tomatoes in the rural town of Immokalee, Fla. In 1993, they formed the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to organize in solidarity with consumers to demand that major restaurant chains source their tomatoes from farms that pay a fair wage to their workers.

I spoke with farmworker and CIW organizer Gerardo Reyes-Chavez. He was in Denver, where the fast-food outlet Chipotle is based. CIW has been working on Chipotle for 10 years. He told me: “We have been able to create a Fair Food Program, addressing abuses in the tomato industry. We created a whole new system ... to identify where abuses are going on and uproot them from the system. This is an opportunity for Chipotle to do the right thing. They claim that they sell food with integrity, and they are really focused on the sustainability ... what we are saying is, this is an opportunity for them to make it a reality.”

The day after I spoke with Reyes-Chaves, Chipotle signed the Fair Food Agreement. As the presidential candidates trade barbs over jobs in their heavily-controlled debates, workers at the grass roots are organizing for change, from Florida to California.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

© 2012 Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 1,100 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize.

Meet Crawfish-Peeling Guestworkers Who Inspired Walmart Walkouts

Meet the Crawfish-Peeling Guestworkers Who Inspired Walmart Walkouts

How a few courageous workers in small-town Louisiana sparked nationwide actions demanding better wages and working conditions for those who pick, pack, stock, and sell the mega-retailer’s products.
by Cecilia Garza

In the small town of Breaux Bridge, La., Martha Uvalle and her co-workers at C.J.'s Seafood, a Walmart supplier, faced abuses many Americans imagine only take place in poorer, faraway countries: They were forced to work shifts of up to 24 hours, with no overtime pay; threatened with beatings if their breaks lasted too long; and, on at least two occasions, locked inside the facility to work. Some fell asleep at their workstations from exhaustion.

Uvalle had heard that there were organizations that defended the rights of immigrant workers like her. In 2011, someone had mentioned a group called the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA).

But, for a year, she held on to the number and didn't call. Change seemed impossible.

So when Uvalle gave the NGA's number to her feisty co-worker, Ana Rosa Diaz, it was an act of tremendous courage. Diaz then actually called the NGA to report the working conditions at C.J.'s.

“Apart from the fact that he [general manager Michael LeBlanc] screams at us, he humiliates us all the time, apart from the fact that we were being made to work these excessive hours, this year the supervisors blocked the doors to the plant so we couldn’t take breaks,” Diaz told YES! Magazine of her C.J.'s experience. “One supervisor threatened to hit us with a shovel. And finally the thing that pushed us over the edge was that the employer threatened our families if we reported him.”

The workers' action, and a subsequent investigation of C.J.'s by the U.S. Department of Labor, was like a first spark falling on a vast, dry field. The actions at C.J.'s Seafood helped inspire the recent strikes and walkouts in Walmart warehouses and stores, where workers had already been struggling to organize. The walkouts have now spread to 28 stores in 12 states, according to the New York Times (

Several groups of workers around the country have announced a nationwide call to arms, including employees of Walmart suppliers in Illinois, California, and the small seafood town of Breaux Bridge. Many are calling it the first strike in Walmart's 50-year history.

The demands? That Walmart improve working conditions and wages for the company's employees, and negotiate better protections against exploitative practices by companies like C.J.'s that supply Walmart's products.

A climate of intimidation

As Jacob Horwitz, a lead organizer with the NGA, listened on the other end of the phone line, Ana Rosa Diaz described her working conditions.

Diaz, 40, is a mother of four children who still live in her home town of Tamaulipas, Mexico. Like most of her coworkers, she traveled to the United States under an H2B work visa as a guestworker. This particular visa permits non-U.S. citizens to enter the country for temporary or seasonal employment on terms that make it difficult to switch employers once approved.

This past season, C.J.’s Seafood employed 48 workers, 40 of whom were in the U.S. as guestworkers. In reporting their employer, LeBlanc, for labor abuse, the workers of C.J.’s faced the possibility of deportation or being blacklisted by future employers.

According to the investigative report from the labor watchdog Worker Rights Consortium, C.J.'s employees endured 16- to 24-hour shifts and received a wage of two dollars for every pound of crawfish peeled. If their breaks lasted longer than five minutes, one of the supervisors, Manuel Mendoza, threatened to beat them with a shovel used to stir the crawfish.

The workers started their shifts at 2 a.m. and worked until 6 p.m., with no overtime compensation. They boiled, peeled, cleaned, packaged, and froze the crawfish that bring the LeBlanc family business between $20 and $50 million in annual revenue, according to

C.J.’s Seafood sells 85 percent of its crawfish to Walmart. Yet the crawfish supplier is a microscopic part of the business that Walmart does with suppliers around the country and overseas. According to the National Guestworker Alliance, there are 60,000 Walmart product suppliers in the United States alone.

As the single largest customer for many of these suppliers, Walmart has the leverage to demand the lowest prices, a practice that compels some to make ends meet by squeezing their workers.

While labor laws still protect guestworkers, they help only when enforced. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2012 Fiscal Year Budget, the Wage and Hour Division employed 898 investigators to enforce labor laws at the beginning of 2010. This covers more than 135 million workers in more than 7.3 million establishments throughout the United States. Following an aggressive hiring effort, by the end of 2010 the division was able to expand to 1,038 investigators. This year, it has requested an increased budget to continue expanding.

The increases of 2010 still leave each inspector responsible for one and a quarter million workers, a situation that allows the conditions seen at C.J.’s Seafood and elsewhere to pass largely unnoticed.

Some employers who want to provide honest and fair working conditions have been pressured out of the industry. LeBlanc, who also serves as the director of the Crawfish Processors Alliance, lobbied against better protections for guestworkers in April of 2012 when the Department of Labor considered implementing new rules for the guestworker program. These changes would have ensured wage increases, protections against deportation and retaliation, as well as job opportunities for U.S. workers. But because of the pressure from business owners like LeBlanc, the changes were never made.

Inspiration of a movement

The employees of C.J.’s Seafood returned to work year after year despite the fact that they were getting paid much less than the minimum wage and lived under 24/7 surveillance. Victor Ramos was in his third season, Martha Uvalle was in her sixth, and Ana Rosa Diaz was in her eighth when they decided the pressure to fill orders was making conditions unbearable.

According to Diaz, after a desperate worker called 911 one night, Leblanc rounded up all of the guestworkers in the plant facilities, locked the doors behind them to keep the American workers out, and told the immigrants he had contacts with good people and bad people and knew where all of their families lived. They wouldn’t be able to hide.

When police officers arrived in response to the call, the workers told them the call had been a mistake.

Still wearing their hairnets from a day of processing crawfish, eight workers confronted LeBlanc on June 4 outside the trailers that served as their homes. Through a translator, they told him that they would no longer allow him to treat them with disrespect and demanded he end the forced labor on his property.

“He was very shocked and began denying everything,” said Victor Ramos, one of the workers. “He was denying that [the things we were saying] ever happened or were true.”

The workers left the facility and attempted to deliver a letter describing their work conditions to the nearby Sam’s Club, a retail outlet owned by Walmart, where C.J.’s Seafood is sold. They were turned away.

Next, they filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Labor, which opened investigations coinciding with the investigation by the Worker Rights Consortium. In the last week of June, the striking workers held a 24-hour fast outside of Walmart board member Michele Burns's Manhattan apartment, alongside other NGA members. The workers started a petition that gathered 150,000 signatures in a month.

Following findings of labor violations reported by the Worker Rights Consortium, on June 30 Walmart suspended business with C.J.’s Seafood. For now, this suspension is an admission that there are problems that violate Walmart’s Standards for Suppliers. But since C.J.’s is a seasonal operation and the suspension occurred in the off-season, it is difficult to gauge how far this admission will go.

During the last week of July, the Department of Labor concluded their investigation of C.J.’s. It fined the company $248,000 for safety, wage, and hour violations. That includes $76,608 in back pay to 73 workers, for paying less than the minimum wage and failing to compensate workers for overtime over the last two years.

The NGA acknowledges the suspension and the fines as victories to celebrate, but its organizers know the fight is not over.
"WalMarch" sparks wave of actions

In September, walkouts and protests spread to California, this time involving employees who worked directly for Walmart. Thirty workers from a warehouse in Mira Loma, Calif., walked out in early September to protest unsafe working conditions. According to a report by the Huffington Post, the workers reported temperatures of up to 120 degrees, no access to clean water or regular breaks, and faulty work equipment.

Ana Diaz, having received recognition for her successful role in outing C.J.'s, was flown out from Breaux Bridge to hold an informal meeting at the offices of Warehouse Workers United (, a group that works to improve the conditions of warehouse workers in Southern California’s Inland Empire. They discussed how products get onto store shelves, how many hands they pass through, and the best way to shape the global system that they each share a role in as workers.

The next day, they completed a six-day, 50-mile walk from the Inland Empire to Los Angeles where they held a rally on the steps of the Los Angeles City Hall. The “WalMarch” was inspired by Cesar Chavez’s worker march from Delano to Sacramento.

Within days of the “WalMarch,” protests over abuses comparable to those in Mira Loma developed in Elwood, Ill., at the country’s largest Walmart distribution center. Seventy percent of all imported products that the company sells in the United States pass through the Elwood warehouse, according to Leah Fried, an organizer for Warehouse Workers for Justice, an organization located in Illinois that shares the goals of Warehouse Workers United.

The Elwood warehouse was forced to close ( on October 1, when 600 supporters and workers held an action outside the facility entrance. Though 17 people were arrested, the workers estimate that closing the facility cost the company several million dollars. Three days later, 60 retail workers in Southern California drew on the inspiration of the warehouse workers by showing up at work to join a picket line instead of clocking in—an action supporting the freedom to demand better conditions without the fear of being fired or blacklisted by their employers.

“Workers will be challenging Walmart at every point in their supply chain and at every point in their business,” Horwitz said, “until Walmart is ready to sit down and really negotiate better rights and conditions for all of its workers.”
Progress with a voice

Since the initial confrontation with LeBlanc, the workers of C.J.'s Seafood have found a voice within the realm of business politics. It’s still a small voice, but it’s a growing one. They have also found support from workers across the United States who fight for similar causes.

“The jobs in the warehouses are not sustainable if you cannot maintain a family” on the income the workers receive, said Elizabeth Brennan, the communications director of Warehouse Workers United. “That’s what unites people.”

Workers at the warehouse in Mira Loma returned to work on September 28 after a 15-day strike. This came after Walmart issued a statement that they will be making efforts to employ third-party monitors for their suppliers. Likewise, the workers in Elwood have returned to work under the promise that there will be no more illegal retaliation from their employer. Nevertheless, threats of further strikes—including talk of a strike on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year—have continued throughout the week.

For Martha Uvalle, Ana Rosa Diaz, and other C.J.'s employees, this week brought fresh promise: The federal government provided them special visas ( reserved for victims of serious crimes, and they no longer face fear of deportation.

They will be using this protection to enter facilities of other suppliers throughout the Louisiana coast region, and to empower workers who face the same conditions faced—and, for now, overcome—at C.J.'s Seafood.

Cecilia Garza wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Cecilia is an intern at YES!

Southern California Warehouse Workers Announce Second Strike

November 12, 2012
4:46 PM

CONTACT: Warehouse Workers United
601 S. Milliken Ave, Suite A
Ontario, California 91761

Southern California Warehouse Workers Announce Second Strike
Workers call for an end to chilling retaliation at warehouse that moves Walmart goods

RIVERSIDE, Calif. - November 12 - Warehouse workers vowed to walk off the job this week if retaliation at a Walmart-contracted warehouse does not end. They plan to hold a rally and picket line Thursday morning in Mira Loma, California.

“I was fired for trying to make the warehouse where I worked safer,” said David Garcia, a warehouse worker. “It’s been tough. My kids need food, school supplies and an apartment to sleep at night, but right now it is difficult to provide them these basic things.”

Since workers went on strike to protest unfair labor practices and marched 50-miles from Southern California’s Inland Empire to Downtown Los Angeles to win safe jobs this September, working conditions have started to improve, but workers have experienced continued retaliation including terminations, demotions and a drastic reduction in hours.

“Because workers have spoken out about inhumane working conditions, the warehouse company is now scrambling to rent fans, add water coolers and fix broken equipment,” said Guadalupe Palma, a campaign director with Warehouse Workers United. “While it’s good they have acknowledged workers’ concerns about safety are legitimate, it does not excuse the fact that workers who bravely spoke out are being severely retaliated against.”

Workers—who do not have a recognized union—are prepared to strike this week to calling for an end to retaliation and unfair labor practices. Workers load and unload goods at a warehouse operated by NFI industries in Mira Loma, California.

Within the last week, NFI has been frantically installing new ramps, a heavy metal panel that connects shipping containers to the warehouse for loading and unloading, water coolers, fans and fixing other equipment. In September Walmart spokesman Dan Fogelman told news outlets: “Based on our conversation with our providers and visits to many of the facilities, we believe the complaints are either unfounded or, if legitimate, have been addressed.”

“Clearly Walmart’s statement that workers’ claims were false was actually false,” said Guadalupe Palma, a director of Warehouse Workers United, an organization committed to improving warehousing jobs in Southern California’s Inland Empire. “Walmart must intervene to uphold its own stated “Standards for Suppliers” and involve workers in order to eliminate inhumane and illegal working conditions.”

Workers are employed by NFI and a temporary labor agency, Warestaff. One hundred percent of the merchandise that flows through the facility is destined for Walmart stores. As the largest retailer in the world, Walmart dictates the standards of operation in the logistics and distribution industry.

More than 85,000 workers labor in warehouses in Southern California, unloading merchandise from shipping containers that enter through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and loading it onto trucks destined for retail stores like Walmart. The National Labor Relations Board is currently investigating numerous federal charges filed by the warehouse workers.


Warehouse Workers United is an organization committed to improving the quality of life and jobs for warehouse workers in Southern California’s Inland Empire.

Warehouse Workers United Links:

Elwood, IL Walmart Workers Demand End To Illegal Retaliation

November 14, 2012
3:42 PM

CONTACT: Warehouse Workers for Justice

Walmart Warehouse Workers in Elwood, IL Demand an End To Illegal Retaliation
Unfair Labor Practice Charges Are Filed with the National Labor Relations Board

WASHINGTON - November 14 - Warehouse workers filed charges of unfair labor practices against four employers operating Walmart's largest distribution center located in Elwood, IL.

Schneider Logistics, Roadlink Workforce Solutions, Select Remedy and Skyward Employment Service are all charged with violating workers rights under the law. Illegal threats, intimidation and discipline against workers organizing for improved conditions are the bases for the unfair labor practice charges filed today.

"We work hard and deserve to be paid fairly, have a safe workplace and be treated with dignity as human beings. If Walmart thinks we will be silenced by this illegal retaliation, they are wrong" said Walmart warehouse worker Phil Bailey.

In Mira Loma, CA today dozens of warehouse workers walked off the job at a Walmart-contracted warehouse Wednesday morning to call for an end to continued retaliation against workers advocating for fair treatment and safe conditions.

Workers at the Walmart warehouse in Elwood, IL went on strike for three weeks this fall to protest unfair labor practices committed by Roadlink Workforce Solutions. They won their three week strike on October 6th when Roadlink rescinded all retaliation and paid the strikers for all the days they were on strike. The unfair labor practice strike was triggered by management’s discipline against workers attempting to present the company their concerns about wage theft, unsafe conditions and discrimination. They are demanding an end to retaliation against workers who organize to end the poor conditions.

Warehouse workers labor under extreme temperatures, lifting thousands of boxes that can weigh up to 250 lbs each. Workplace injuries are common; workers rarely earn a living wage or have any benefits.

Warehouse Workers for Justice is an Illinois worker center dedicated to fighting for quality jobs in the distribution industry that can sustain families and communities.


Walmart Workers Walk Off Job in First Wave of 1000 Protests

As Black Friday approaches, Walmart workers speak out
by Common Dreams staff

Walmart Workers are walking off jobs at the big box retailer in droves this week in the first wave of 1000 protests set to culminate on national shopping holiday, Black Friday.

Warehouse and retail employees from Southern California walked off the job Wednesday and on Thursday morning Walmart workers from Seattle joined them in protest.

Following these actions, a press release from Making Change at Walmart announced ( that these strikes are the first of 1000 protests, "including more strikes, rallies and online actions, at Walmart stores leading up to and on Black Friday." Strikes and protests are scheduled at store locations across the country, including Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, Washington DC, as well as workers walking off the job in Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana and Minnesota.

Walmart workers are speaking out against the company's attempts to silence employees' complaints regarding the "company’s manipulation of hours and benefits, efforts to try to keep people from working full-time and their discrimination against women and people of color." Workers cite such abuses as rearranging schedules, cutting hours and even firing people who speak out.

In anticipation of the holiday, employees have also been speaking out against the company's decision to begin Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving Day, "preventing many retail workers from being able to spend the holiday with their families."

Making Change at Walmart produced this video as a rallying cry for workers to "stand up, live better."

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