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A ‘Pierced Abdomen From Handling A Stack Of Pallets & Two Empty’ First Aid Kits, ‘Leads To Workers Moving Forward’ On A Unionizing Effort At A Columbia Sportswear Warehouse In Oregon

Published Monday, January 6, 2020
by Don McIntosh/
A ‘Pierced Abdomen From Handling A Stack Of Pallets & Two Empty’ First Aid Kits, ‘Leads To Workers Moving Forward’ On A Unionizing Effort At A Columbia Sportswear Warehouse In Oregon

(NORTH PORTLAND, OREGON) - For Rory Gatto, the road to the Teamsters Union started with a splinter.  Gatto works swing shift at the colossal Columbia Sportswear Warehouse in Industrial North Portland, one of about 400 Workers who process Columbia’s foreign-made apparel for shipping throughout the Western United States.

In the Summer of 2015, just months into the job, he was handling a stack of pallets when a wood splinter pierced his shirt and punctured the skin on his abdomen.

Gatto went to the first-aid kit near his work station and found it empty.

Downstairs in another work area, the first-aid kit there was empty too.

So, afraid of being gone too long from his station, he dabbed the wound with a wet paper towel and got back to work.

Within days, the puncture was red, swollen, and painful.

Not yet enrolled in company insurance, he visited a free clinic in Vancouver, where a doctor diagnosed a staph infection, drained the wound and prescribed oral antibiotics.

Returning to work, Gatto decided to take a look at first-aid kits around the warehouse.

“Most were either completely empty or had a few pieces of something here or there,” he remembers.

He talked to his supervisor about it and was told to take it up with the Safety Committee.

Attending safety committee meetings, he asked that first-aid kits be resupplied.

“They kept pooh-poohing it and pushing it off, and saying, ‘Whose cost center is it?’”

When no one would take responsibility for it, Gatto offered to be the one to refill Band-Aids.

Nothing happened.

For a safety meeting attended by Jeanette Williams, then Columbia Sportswear Operations Manager, he developed and put forward a Power-Point presentation proposing a schedule for checking and restocking the kits.

Objections were raised: Who would pay for it?  What if employees steal Band-Aids? 

Neither Williams nor anyone else would take action.

After months of trying to get first-aid kits restocked, Gatto stopped trying, but he knew something was wrong.

How could a company where a cloud-based warehouse management system tracks every article of clothing be unable to keep Band-Aids in stock for injured Employees?

Why would a company that thanked Workers for record productivity every quarter be unwilling to attend to something so small?

The failed Band-Aid crusade opened Gatto’s eyes and he started talking with Co-Workers about what he was seeing.

None of them had any problem with the work itself, but beyond that, there were many complaints.

With little or no climate control or insulation, the 182,860-square-foot metal box they work in is like a refrigerator in Winter, and parts can be stiflingly hot in the Summer.

Frequent last-minute schedule changes wreak havoc on Employees’ personal lives.

Workers also have no say over major changes: Managers recently eliminated the top of a pay scale and changed the work-week from four 10-hour shifts to five eight-hour shifts.

Workers are subject to computer-tracked performance goals, contributing to a high-pressure environment - for some pretty low wages that range from the legal Minimum Wage to just under $20 an hour aren’t enough in the Portland Metro Area, where median rent on a one-bedroom apartment is now $1,234 a month.

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