(MintPress) – Erika was a Wal-Mart associate in Texas. On her day off, she decided to go to a concert. The next day, her grandmother fell into a coma and was rushed to the intensive care unit. When she called to inform her supervisor, he informed her she was fired — he thought she was […]
(MintPress) – Erika was a Wal-Mart associate in Texas. On her day off, she decided to go to a concert. The next day, her grandmother fell into a coma and was rushed to the intensive care unit. When she called to inform her supervisor, he informed her she was fired — he thought she was hung over and lying to stay home. Even after providing written documentation to her supervisor, he double-downed on his assertion, claiming it was forged.
Raphael from Florida is the father of five. He can only afford to add one of his children to his Wal-Mart health care plan. Even worse, his hours were cut out of retaliation for associating with OUR WalMart. Now, even working two jobs don’t cover the bills, as working for Wal-Mart offers so little to the bottom-line.
Jessie from North Carolina worked at Sam’s Club (a Wal-Mart controlled subsidiary) for five years. During her tenure, she had to deal with hiring freezes, unpaid overtime, workplace safety issues and pay cuts. The deepest cut came when during a blackout, her manager told her to return to work and “put her priorities in check” when she asked for a hour to check on her son’s security.
Across the country, protests were held in at least nine states in the name of these and other hardworking men and women who are being trivialized and treated as nothing more than a budget-line statistic by Wal-Mart. As reported by the Nation, Wal-Mart associates striked in San Leandro, Calif., Clovis, N.M., Ocean City, Md., Orlando, Miami and St. Cloud, Fla., Baton Rouge, La., Dallas, Texas, and Kenosha, Wis. Despite this and the protests that flanked Wal-Mart stores from coast to coast, Wal-Mart still reported the best Black Friday in recent history. In a Nov. 23 Wal-Mart press release, the following was reported:
“I’m so proud of what our more than 1.3 million associates have done to prepare and execute our Black Friday plans, giving our customers a great start to their Christmas shopping season,” said Bill Simon, Walmart U.S. president and chief executive officer. “The work of our associates is even more impressive when you consider they served approximately 22 million customers on Thursday.
“Walmart’s Black Friday plan included three events this year at 8 p.m., 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. During the high traffic period from 8 p.m. through midnight, Walmart processed nearly 10 million register transactions and almost 5,000 items per second.
“… Since its events began at 8 p.m., Walmart sold more than:
- 1.8 million towels,
- 1.3 million televisions,
- 1.3 million dolls and
- 250,000 bicycles.
“… In response to the UFCW’s planned protests, Simon added, “Only 26 protests occurred at stores last night and many of them did not include any Walmart associates.” In addition, the company did not experience the walk-offs that were promised by the UFCW. “We estimate that less than 50 associates participated in the protest nationwide. In fact, this year, roughly the same number of associates missed their scheduled shift as last year,” Simon said.
Wal-Mart is one of the most sued companies in America. In June, the company was forced to pay $70,000 for religious discrimination against a Mormon employee. The company recently faced and survived the largest sex discrimination lawsuit in American history — a class action lawsuit against Wal-Mart by 1.5 million female employees. Since 2009, 3,044 federal lawsuits have been filed against Wal-Mart, with about 12 percent being in regards to employment issues. It is estimated that Wal-Mart is hit with 17 lawsuits a day, every day; and the company has been hit with citations from almost every regulatory agency, ranging from the Federal Trade Commission to the Environment Protection Agency.
In spite of this, Wal-Mart seem to be chugging along without consideration of the law. Recently, a California State Appellate Court ruled that Wal-Mart’s use of petitions to blackmail city councils to approve store construction permits in spite of the California Environmental Quality Act is illegal. This begs the question: Are lower prices truly worth such corporate misbehavior? Will the people ever grow tired of such a destructive business model? Are employees truly an expendable resource toward the goal of larger profits?
The true cost of ‘everyday low prices’
“I was one of the most wanted assistant managers within the Md region. We got a new store manager. He did not like me. He decided to give me a below eval and put me on a PIP. After 90 days he demoted me and made me leave the state of Md. Said I could no longer work in MD. I was forced to transfer to Va.. I filed an EEOC claim. OnceWalmart found out about the claim, the company retaliated against me and continued to give me below evals until eventually they were able to terminate me. I have since lost my home. Unable to find employment. Walmart ruined my life simply because someone did not like me. Now I struggle from day to day to even eat. I hate Walmart!!!!”
“I worked for Sam’s Club just about 5 years. My old co-workers are forced to do twice the work at the same pay, since the store has issued a freeze on hiring. They’ve cut everyone’s hours and expect them to get the work done that should take 10 people to do. I can’t understand their logic on that. Again they’ve cut everyone’s hours with the same pay, no benefits. They are forcing these people to work like slaves…Do you think they take kindly to single parents? Not at all, I had to go get my son from school one day because the power went out. I had to leave work, that same manage told me I needed to get my priorities in check. I believe they were I only asked to leave for about an hour to run 30 minutes down the road to go get my son and come back. To believe that the company I poured my blood, sweat, tears, and soul into has become so heartless and such an animal is a complete and utter disgust to me.”
“I worked at a Walmart in Hardeeville, South Carolina from 2004 until 2006. I was hired as a cashier, but I worked in every department. While I was there, I got sick. I had a lot of pain, was doubled over the cash register and the Store Manager came up to me and told me to leave and don’t come back until you are feeling better. I was out, went to many doctors and not once did a get a phone call form anyone at Walmart. I had surgery, came back to work and ended up having to leave for a second surgery and to deal with a sick family member. Again, they never called to ask if me or my family was ok. Walmart is supposed to be home, but they don’t treat you right. You work long hours, in all different departments – they pay crap and they don’t show compassion. I will never work at a Walmart again.”
These are the testimony filed by current and former Wal-Mart associates on OUR Wal-Mart’s Walmart at 50 website in regards to their experience with Wal-Mart. These employees feel — justifiably — that the company has ignored them and are simply using them as a means to an end — that being higher profits. Wal-Mart’s past experience suggests that Wal-Mart is willing to be underhanded and devious to achieve its goals.
A common tactic Wal-Mart uses is predatory pricing, in which Wal-Mart would underprice its merchandise — with the use of loss leaders — below what local competitors can afford to sell their merchandise at. This forces competitors to price their merchandise at levels below which the store can meet its bottom line or face the risk of losing customers to Wal-Mart’s lower prices. Wal-Mart also uses monopsony — being the sole buyer to a wide range of sellers — to manipulate prices, sometimes lower than the manufacturer can safely sell. Kraft ended up shutting down 39 plants, laying off 13,500 workers and eliminating a quarter of its product line as a result of Wal-Mart’s demand for lower prices.
Much of Wal-Mart’s merchandise is produced overseas in sweatshop conditions, particularly in China, Taiwan, Vietnam and Thailand. This is in spite of the company’s “Buy American” campaign.
Of greater concern to employees is Wal-Mart’s labor relations. With nearly 2.2 million employees worldwide, Wal-Mart is America’s largest private employer. Wal-Mart also has a turnover rate of nearly 70 percent for first year employees. This is in part due to an average take-home weekly paycheck of $250 (which would place an employee with a family below the federal poverty limit, despite have a full-time job). Since the average pay qualifies many of Wal-Mart’s employees for public assistance, this is sometime seen as a form of corporate welfare — the state subsidizing of Wal-Mart’s pay schedule. Sam Walton, the late founder of Wal-Mart, attested to this: “I pay low wages. I can take advantage of that. We’re going to be successful, but the basis is a very low-wage, low-benefit model of employment.”
Nelson Lichtenstein, professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, talked to PBS’s Frontline about Wal-Mart’s labor strategy:
“…And well, their competitors — whether they’re the Sears or even Woolworth’s or even Kmarts of this world, and Costco certainly — those firms … had a sense that they couldn’t really get away with a minimum-wage workforce, which had a 50 or 75 percent turnover. That was thought to be inefficient.
“But Wal-Mart, I think, showed that they could do that. And partly you can have a workforce which rapidly turns over if you have the technology there, which means you can just slot one person into the job with no training and no sort of background. And that’s what’s happened. Wal-Mart has to hire something on the order of half a million workers every year just to maintain its current workforce. And they understood that. And that’s been true, not just at Wal-Mart, of course, [but in] the whole fast-food world, the whole world of contingent workers. I mean, this is sort of a new American model for labor, for workforce, and Wal-Mart has been right there at the forefront of that, partly forging the way, partly being a vanguard firm, but partly just taking advantage of that…”
Even graver is Wal-Mart’s continuing efforts to deny its employees their constitutional right to assemble. Wal-Mart is adamantly and belligerently anti-unions, having gone as far as to shut down stores that have unionized, such as the Jonquiere, Quebec store. In 2000, meat cutters in Jacksonville, Texas voted to unionize. Wal-Mart closed the department in favor of prepackaged meats. A National Labor Relations Board ordered the restoral of the department in June 2003.
In 2005, a Wal-Mart executive was forced to resign due to an embezzlement scheme that — according to Coughlin — involved an anti-union scheme in which cash bribes were paid to the United Food and Commercial Workers Union in exchange for the name of employees who signed union cards. These employees would be subsequently terminated. Wal-Mart denies the charges.
In 1970, Sam Walton hired union busters to conduct an anti-union campaign. On the union busters’ recommendation, Walton implemented a comprehensive anti-union training program for new employees and a profit-sharing program that could be used as a bribe to discourage pro-union activities. Both programs exist to this day.
Even though Wal-Mart has occasionally been forced to cooperate with collective bargaining in North America, attempts to unionize have been met with extreme prejudice. Managers have been trained to identify and stop union talk, potential union organizers have been fired and banned from Wal-Mart property, aggressive measures have been taken to bully any noticeable pro-unions factions. Unionization would influence the freedom Wal-Mart has in exploiting its employees.
In September 2010, the International Labor Rights Fund filed a class action lawsuit against Wal-Mart for violating foreign workers’ rights by denying minimum wage, forcing overtime, punishing union activities and physically beating employees. In one insistence, Wal-Mart failed to provide adequate safety equipment to its overseas fabric cutters and seamstresses. Wal-Mart determined that it was cheaper to wash workers’ blood from clothing before shipping than to provide gloves.
In November 2010, the Office of the Inspector General released a report critical of the Labor Department’s settlement with Wal-Mart over child labor violations. It was claimed that the Labor Department made “serious concessions” to Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart was ultimately fined just $135,540 for child labor violations between 1998 and 2002.
Here in North America, Wal-Mart has been hit with repeated charges of gender discrimination, violations of labor laws — including denial of an unpaid lunch break, unclocked work hours, unpaid overtime and the denial of overtime to managers — and using salary caps and rotating schedules to drive full-time employees out. Some Wal-Mart managers have threatened employees to not join class-action suits against the company on the penalty of termination, collecting the lawsuits’ invitations.
Wal-Mart’s benefits package have also become an issue due to the company’s penny-pinching in regards to labor relations. When Wal-Mart bowed to public pressure by offering a cheaper (and less comprehensive) health plan to its employees with a premium as low as $11, the company released an internal memo in regards to reducing health care costs — in part because Wal-mart workers were “sicker than the national population” and tended to overuse emergency rooms instead of visiting doctors. Among the recommendations are:
- Discouraging unhealthy people from working at Wal-Mart; one way to accomplish this goal: require that all jobs involve some physical activity
- Hiring more part-time workers
- Reducing 401(k) contributions
- Putting health clinics in Wal-Mart stores
So, what can be done about this?
When the immovable object meets the unstoppable force…
Wal-Mart is the epitome of “Too Big to Fail.” As the nation’s largest private employer and the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart has been afforded a very long leash in regards to its ethical issues. In many communities, Wal-Mart is the sole employer. Wal-Mart’s hiring creates around 1.6 million jobs annually, and the company is a massive boost to the manufacturing and retail sectors of the economy.
It is regularly said about the economy, “As Wal-Mart goes, the economy follows.” While many states and communities have enforced laws to make Wal-Mart more responsible for its employees, federal regulation on the matter is lacking, mainly because Wal-Mart is a heavy political contributor; both Bill and Hillary Clinton sat on the Wal-Mart’s Board of Directors in the past.
The Black Friday protest served to help publicize the plight of the employees, but was almost guaranteed to fail from its conception. For many who would actually leave their families on Thanksgiving to shop, the working conditions of the employees are not a consideration. For most people, getting what they want at the right price is worth an employee’s discomfort. This is exactly the kind of mindset Wal-Mart seeks.
It’s not completely fair to point the finger at just Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart’s wages are pathetically low, but its average hourly wage for sales associates ($8.84) is higher than Target ($8.28), Kmart ($7.66), Walgreens ($8.17) and Sears ($8.20). While Wal-Mart may be anti-union, so is Target. Target has been accused of using intimidation tactics to keep a Valley Stream, N.Y. store union-free. In fact, almost every allegation levied on Wal-Mart could be levied on another discount retailer, as well.
So why is Wal-Mart picked on so much?
Wal-Mart is picked on because it is the industry’s leader, and the industry does what Wal-Mart does. Not too long ago, most retail jobs were unionized with guaranteed full-time hours, benefits and a living wage. Wal-Mart came in and showed that you can demand more from your employees and get it, and the industry shifted to stay competitive. In order to fix the retail industry, Wal-Mart must move first.
But as long as consumers can say that the cost of an item is most important, there will be little reason for change. Recently, Target became the lowest priced retailer in America; without its claim that it is doing what it does to offer the lowest prices, people are starting to ask exactly why Wal-Mart does business in such a dysfunctional way, and that’s turning people away.
That’s how we successfully protest in America: with their wallets.