Monday, December 17, 2007

Time for the Wal-Mart talk: Rolling back reality

I went to a holiday party last evening (actually, it was the annual celebration of Beethoven's birthday), and was immediately face to face with "The Wal-Mart Discussion." Sometimes you don't see it coming, and this was one of them. Most of my friends are very liberal (surprise, surprise, I know!), so I am always shocked to hear that any of them would throw out their values to save a buck.

But I had barely taken a sip of my first glass of wine when a friend -- really she's a friend of a friend -- announced that she had just spent the day at the "new Wal-Mart Super Center and it was fabulous!" I nearly choked on my Cabernet. Rather than get into a nasty argument, my sweetie and I simply said "we don't shop at Wal-Mart, because those low prices come at too high a cost to society." The friend acted surprised at this news, which is fairly unbelievable given the crowd she runs with. So methinks she was trying to cause some drama -- do you have friends like that? But in the small chance that she -- or anyone else -- does not know the truth behind the "fabulous" Wal-Mart, here are some facts about the retail giant, via Wake-Up Wal-Mart:

Wal-Mart cares little for the safety of its workers

  • In 2005, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has upheld a $5,000 fine against a Wal-Mart store in Hoover, Ala., for blocking emergency exits. The court upheld a decision by a judge who found that Wal-Mart was guilty of a serious and repeated offense. [New York Times, 5/17/05]
  • The West Virginia state workmen's comp agency placed Wal-Mart in an "adverse risk" pool because Wal-Mart had unusually high accident rates. [Charleston Gazette, 6/3/99]
Wal-Mart fails to provide a secure retirement benefit for its employees.

  • Wal-Mart sponsors two retirement plans — a profit sharing plan and 401(k) plan — neither of which guarantee workers a fixed monthly pension benefit.
  • Wal-Mart's retirement plans are Enron-like -- in 2003-04, 67% of their combined assets were invested in Wal-Mart stock. [Wal-Mart Stores 5500 IRS Filing, 2004]
  • When employees retire without adequate savings and benefits, they are less able to pay for health care, housing, and food. Communities and taxpayers ultimately bear the cost.

Wal-Mart closes down stores and departments that unionize

  • Wal-Mart closed its store in Jonquierre, Quebec in April 2005 after its employees received union certification. The store became the first unionized Wal-Mart in North America when 51 percent of the employees at the store signed union cards. [Washington Post, 4/14/05]
  • In 2000, when a small meatcutting department successfully organized a union at a Wal-Mart store in Texas, Wal-Mart responded a week later by announcing the phase-out of its in-store meatcutting company-wide. [Pan Demetrakakes, "Is Wal-Mart Wrapped in Union Phobia?" Food & Packaging 76 (August 1, 2003).]
Wal-Mart discriminates against women
  • In 2001, six women sued Wal-Mart in California claiming the company discriminated against women by systematically denying them promotions and paying them less than men. The lawsuit, Dukes v. Wal-Mart, has expanded to include more than 1.6 million current and former female employees, and was certified on June 21 2004 as the largest class action lawsuit ever. [Mondaq Business Briefing, November 1, 2004]
  • In 2001, women managers on average earned $14,500 less than their male counterparts. Female hourly workers earned on average $1,100 less than male counterparts. [Drogin 2003]
Wal-Mart violates Child Labor Laws

  • An internal Wal-Mart audit found "extensive violations of child-labor laws and state regulations requiring time for breaks and meals." [New York Times, 1/13/04]
  • One week of time records from 25,000 employees in July 2000 found 1,371 instances of minors working too late, during school hours, or for too many hours in a day. There were 60,767 missed breaks and 15,705 lost meal times. [New York Times, 1/13/04]
That's not enough? Then I suggest you take a read of Rolling Back Property Tax Payments: How Wal-Mart Short-Changes Schools and other Public Services by Challenging Its Property Tax Assessments

Or, read a story that we've referenced here before, the case of Deborah Shank, a Wal-Mart employee who was left severely disabled in an auto accident -- only to have Wal-Mart sue her for damages she received from the semi driver who ran into her. The settlement that Shank had received from the driver was put into a special account to pay for the catastrophic health costs incurred from her injuries. But Wal-Mart sued her for even more than the settlement amount. Nice.

As you do your holiday shopping, please consider all of these facts. Then decide if it's worth it to save a few bucks at the expense of society's weakest members.

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