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Mars warehouse workers complain about COVID-19 safety, accuse company of retaliation

“We’re here today to tell the Mars warehouse that we will not tolerate any retaliation,” said Sandy Moreno of Warehouse Workers for Justice said.

Protestors speak to the media and hold up signs during a protest to raise concerns with working conditions and lack of Covid-19 hazard pay outside the Mars Wrigley headquarters at 1131 W. Blackhawk in Goose Island, Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.
Warehouse workers on Tuesday talk about working conditions and lack of COVID-19 hazard pay outside the Mars Wrigley headquarters on Goose Island.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Current and former warehouse employees of Mars Wrigley and its partners XPO Logistics and DHL Supply Chain gathered in front of the company’s global headquarters in Goose Island Tuesday morning to demand justice for those who work at the Mars warehouse in Joliet.

The protest came after employees of the companies signed a petition in July organized by local workers advocacy group Warehouse Workers for Justice. Afterward, a few employees were allegedly fired “under suspicious circumstances,” according to Sandy Moreno of Warehouse Workers for Justice.

“We’re here today to tell the Mars warehouse that we will not tolerate any retaliation,” Moreno said.

Mars Wrigley, a unit of Mars Inc., makes candy and confectioneries such as M&M’s, Skittles and Snickers.

The petition employees signed in July demanded hazard pay, quarantine pay and proper personal protective equipment. It also called for the elimination of the company’s point system — where employees have a certain number of points they can use on things like sick days and can be penalized if they have no more points — during the pandemic.

Demonica Moore, a former XPO temp worker, said she was fired after signing the petition and was put on the “Do Not Return” list, which meant she could no longer work with the staffing agency that hired her.

“It affected the way I live, it affects the way I take care of myself and my ability to do everyday life things,” Moore said. “I just want an explanation of what happened, what’s going on.”

Ryan Johnson, a Mars DHL worker, was one of the employees who brought the petition to the managers of the warehouse. Johnson said he was brought into his manager’s office the next day and was told that the company would not honor the petition.

“Because I brought the petition to them, I was considered public enemy number one,” Johnson said.

In a statement, DHL, which manages the Mars Joliet distribution center, denied the allegations of the unfair labor practices said the company was “committed to open dialog with our associates and to offer them various channels — including anonymous hotlines — to alert company management to any concerns or feedback they may have about any area of their working environment.”

On Friday, Mark Birhanu, an attorney for Raise the Floor Alliance — a coalition of worker centers in the city — filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board against DHL, XPO and the two staffing agencies they work with, 1st Class Staffing and CoWorx Staffing Services.

Birhanu said the charges allege the companies “took retaliatory actions, ranging from termination to threats of discipline against floor workers because they stood up and demanded hazard pay and other improvements to workplace conditions during COVID.”