Temporary Work, Lasting Poverty
And The American Warehouse
By Dave Jamieson
Progressive America Rising via HuffPost
JOLIET, Ill., and FONTANA, Calif. — Like nearly everyone else in Joliet without good job prospects, Uylonda Dickerson eventually found herself at the warehouses looking for work.
"I just needed a job," the 38-year-old single mother says.
Dickerson came to the right place. Over the past decade and a half, Joliet and its Will County environs southwest of Chicago have grown into one of the world’s largest inland ports, a major hub for dry goods destined for retail stores throughout the Midwest and beyond. With all the new distribution centers have come thousands of jobs at "logistics" companies — firms that specialize in moving goods for retailers and manufacturers. Many of these jobs are filled by Joliet’s African Americans, like Dickerson, and immigrants from Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America.
But many bottom-rung workers like Dickerson don’t work for the big corporations whose products are in the warehouses, or even the logistics companies that run them. They go to work for labor agencies that supply workers like Dickerson. Last year, she found work as a temp through one of the myriad staffing agencies that serve big-box retailers and their contractors. Thanks largely to the warehousing boom, Will County has developed one of the highest concentrations of temp agencies in the Midwest.
Dickerson, grateful to have even a temp job, was taken on as a "lumper" — someone who schleps boxes to and from trailers all day long. As unglamorous as her duties were, Dickerson became an essential cog in one of the most sophisticated machines in modern commerce — the Walmart supply chain. Walmart, the world’s largest private-sector employer, had contracted a company called Schneider Logistics to operate the warehouse. And Schneider, in turn, had its own contracts with staffing companies that supplied workers.