Jose Alvarez wheels a newly purchased large-screen TV by Black Friday protesters… (Nick Ut / Associated Press )
Lawyers for Inland Empire warehouse workers are raising the stakes in a legal battle with Wal-Mart Stores Inc. over hours, pay and other conditions at a giant distribution complex in Riverside County.
On Friday, they unveiled an amended complaint filed in U.S. District Court alleging that Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, ultimately is responsible for pressuring a contractor and subcontractors to work more quickly.
Wal-Mart said it would contest the allegation at an initial Jan. 7 court hearing.
The suit accuses Wal-Mart, Schneider Logistics Inc., which operates a Wal-Mart warehouse, and a pair of temporary employment agencies of forcing approximately 1,800 employees "to work long hours, under oppressive workplace conditions, for legally inadequate pay."
The facilities in Mira Loma, near Ontario, receive containers from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and reship them to Wal-Mart distribution centers and stores around the country.
Quiz: How much do you know about California's economy?
"It has become increasingly clear that the ultimate liability for workplace violations rests squarely on the shoulders of Wal-Mart, and not just on the contractors and subcontractors that act as a buffer...," said an attorney for the warehouse workers, Michael Rubin, in a conference call with reporters.
Schneider lawyer Doublas J. Farmer said the firm outsourced labor at the Wal-Mart complex to the temporary employee companies. They are "solely responsible" for how their warehouse employees are managed and paid, he said.
Wal-Mart, in turn, said it had no control over Schneider. "Wal-Mart is Schneider's customer," said spokesman Dan Fogleman. "We have a set of business needs that we pay them to meet, just like any company might hire an accounting firm to do taxes or an advertising firm to help launch a new product."
Schneider, he said, "manages their people completely indpendent of us."
The use of contractors and subcontractors amounts to a ruse to blur Wal-Mart's responsibility, said worker David Acosta, a named plaintiff in the lawsuit.
"They say they have nothing to do with this," Acosta said in Spanish. "But, we do move Wal-Mart merchandise, the boxes say Wal-Mart, the containers say Wal-Mart...They are on top of the pyramid."
Protesters arrested outside Wal-Mart in Paramount
Amazon fulfillment Center opens in San Bernardino
Inland Empire warehouse workers walk off the job, protest conditions