On the Picket Line

Walmart bosses hire plumber, fix up toxic Tire and Lube center

By Samantha Hamlin
February 3, 2020

CHICAGO — An area plumber’s red van has been a common sight for the last few weeks outside of the Walmart Tire and Lube center at a Chicago area store. Walmart bosses hired a plumber to fix the pipes, pumps and a vent that sits in the lower bay area of the auto shop, where workers carry out oil changes daily. Why is this of interest to Militant  readers, you ask?

A clogged pipe resulted in several sewage spills in the tire and lube lower bay recently. Workers refused to work in the hazardous waste that covered the floor, despite bosses insisting that we do so. Our stand won support from other workers in the store and forced the company to fix the pipes and to hire professional cleaners to remove the sewage and sanitize the floor.

After one spill, sewage sat for over a week in the corner of the lower bay. Several workers refused to clean it, saying it wasn’t safe or sanitary, and insisted the company hire professional cleaners with proper training and safety equipment.

Last month, a larger spill flooded the entire floor of the bay with over an inch of raw sewage. Several of us reported to management that sewage was spilling into the work area. The company wanted us to continue doing oil changes, and bosses asked us to clean the area despite Walmart’s own safety policy that employees without training and personal protective equipment are not allowed to clean potentially hazardous spills bigger than one square foot.

For several days some workers refused to go down into the contaminated area. Workers in the shop discussed how to respond to this situation and decided to start doing oil changes on the lifts in the shop instead of the lower bay until the sewage was removed and the floor disinfected.

Management responded to our action, hiring professional cleaners to disinfect the spill by the end of the workday. A plumber was also eventually called to fix the problems with the pipes.

Co-workers throughout the store were outraged that workers were told to work in sewage, and were picked up by the outcome of the action. “This is a matter of safety. There are some things that untrained employees are not allowed to properly handle,” Ronnie Maddocks, a shelf stocker, told the Militant.  “At that point it’s the company’s responsibility to take care of the issue.”

“Several employees confronted managers one on one and nothing changed,” Alex Ziomeck, a tire and lube worker, told the Militant. “The only way that we were able to see real change in the situation is when we came together. To other Walmart workers, if you feel like you can relate to this story, talk to your co-workers and get organized.”

Samantha Hamlin works in Walmart’s Tire and Lube department.