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Bissell’s Dirty Secret: Workers Protest Bissell Warehouse in Response to Mass Firing

November 9, 2009

Two weeks ago workers from Chicago spoke in Grand Rapids about a factory occupation that happened last December. During that presentation they mentioned a new organizing campaign amongst warehouse workers in and around the Chicago area, since over 50% of merchandize that the US imports is distributed through Chicago.


We recently received word from the labor organizers in Chicago about the unjust action taken against workers at a Bissell warehouse just outside of Chicago.

Employees at the Bissell warehouse near Joliet, arrived to work at 6am today only to be informed they were all fired, but not before they trained their replacements.

Workers were fired en masse after filing legal complaints and charges last week over the many violations of state and federal law in the warehouse. On Thursday October 29th workers notified management that they had formed a union.

“This company has no respect for our rights. We will fight to force Bissell and Maersk to follow the law and treat workers with dignity,” said Anthony Bailey a forklift driver at the Bissell facility. “I will not accept losing my job because I stood up for my rights.”

The warehouse has been using an unregistered temporary employment agency that had systematically violated many state and federal laws, including paying some workers less than minimum wage.

Workers also cited racial discrimination, unpaid wages and threats of retaliation for bringing these issues to management’s attention.

The Bissell warehouse, managed by Maersk Logistics, opened in January 2009 and is part of the expanding distribution industry in Chicago’s suburbs. It supplies Bissell vacuum cleaners to big box retailers including Walmart and Target.

Today in Grand Rapids, 5 people in solidarity with the fired warehouse workers delivered a letter to the CEO of Bissell to express their opposition with the treatment of workers. The letter read in part:

bissell 1

As you should know, it is illegal to retaliate against employees for filing complaints under federal and state laws.  These workers have lost their jobs after exposing unlawful practices at your warehouse and in fact may have been retaliated against for exercising their legal rights.  As members of the Grand Rapids community, we hold Bissell accountable for worker abuse and sweatshop conditions in your supply chain. We urge you to retain all of the workers, many of whom have worked at your facility since it opened in January. 

The Bissell CEO refused to meet with people from the community, but they were told an assistant would meet with them. After a 5-minute wait someone did come down to talk with the group and listen to their objections to the treatment of workers in the Bissell warehouse. The person said that they would give the letter to the CEO, but could not answer any of the questions asked, because he was just “a security guard” for the company. So, not only would the CEO refuse to speak to people, the secretarial staff deceived the community members by sending a security guard to speak with them.

Organized Protest

However, the efforts to pressure Bissell have just begun and the community members present, in conjunction with the Chicago labor organizers, are calling for a protest at the Bissell facilities located at 2345 Walker NW in Grand Rapids.

This Wednesday, November 11 beginning at 4pm, people will gather with signs in solidarity with the workers who were fired from the Bissell warehouse outside of Chicago. Please help us spread the word and consider joining the protest.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. November 10, 2009 2:58 pm

    It,s so sad to see an American Company stoup to this level. My father worked at the Walker Plant for over 30 years
    We used to go on John Bissell boat ,he seamed like a real nice guy ! Where this company has gone sickens Me , maybe they should be selling toilets ,because thats where they belong !

  2. stelle slootmaker permalink
    November 10, 2009 3:53 pm

    Yes, cousin Doug… I remember when Uncle Clayt brought us carpet sweepers “made in the U.S.A.” We all need to stand with these warehouse workers in any way that we can…. they are the new blue collar class … and the corporate class won’t be happy until they’ve cleaned up on all of us.

  3. Kyla Sisson permalink
    November 11, 2009 2:11 am

    I’d be interested in attending the protest if I could carpool with someone. Would anyone be interested in meeting at the Bloom? Shoot me an email.

  4. Kyla Sisson permalink
    November 11, 2009 2:12 am

  5. Real Worker permalink
    November 13, 2009 6:26 pm

    So all these workers were fired at 6 am and then asked to stay for the day to train their replacements? How many people in this world would stay at work after being fired to train new people? None that I know of, so this makes the story a little hard to believe, but obviously there are plenty of gullible people out there as the blogs show. Guess that Mr. Barnem of the famed Barnem and Baily Circus was right, that there is a sucker born every minute.

  6. Jeff Smith permalink*
    November 13, 2009 6:38 pm

    I don’t think it is as simply as you state it. The workers that were fired are desperate for income, so if staying another day, even if you know you are being terminated, makes sense if you don’t know where your next paycheck will come from. It is also my understanding from talking with the UE, the union group involved in organizing warehouse workers in Chicago, that many of those fired are recent immigrants, who are under constant fear of deportation, so staying to train their replacements might have something to do with not wanting to be harassed.

  7. November 14, 2009 12:59 am

    Maybe its time for the WEATHERMEN again !!


  1. Bissell Protest is small, but sends a strong message « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy
  2. Alternatives Actions to Black Friday « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy
  3. IWW Union Members Act in Solidarity with Workers Fired at Bissell Warehouse « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy
  4. GR Press business editor gloats over Bissell CEO « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

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