Newest Strike Against Walmart Battles Years of Blatant Disregard for Workers
Photo Credit: By Brave New Films from United States (photo taken by Joey Caputo) (002_2) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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Walmart has a long history of evading the law, abusing its workers, and suppressing strikes through illegal means. This week, OUR Walmart (Organization United for Respect) is beginning the first sustained strike against Walmart, and it’s about time. News of the strike arrives just as Walmart is facing public scrutiny for dumping toxic sludge into California’s sanitary sewers.
Walmart has also been in the news over the last several years for rampant sex discrimination. In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Walmart in Dukes v. Walmart, a class action suit filed by Betty Dukes on behalf of one million female employees of Walmart. The court ruled that the employees of Walmart who had been harmed were “too diverse” a group. In May of 2012, 1,975 women filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In fact, one woman from every Walmart region in the country filed a complaint, all alleging pay discrimination. Lawyers hope that these diverse regional suits will be upheld by the Supreme Court.
Barbara Ehrenreich, who spent three months undercover working in Walmart, wrote an essay about the experience for Inequality Matters titled "Earth to Wal Mars," which she later adapated for the New York Times. She writes that Walmart puts strong pressure on employees not to unionize, requiring them to attend anti-union lectures where they are warned, "a pro-union vote is likely to lead to a company decision to shut down the factory.” A House Committee on Education and the Workforce report found:
In the last few years, well over 100 unfair labor practice charges have been lodged against Walmart throughout the country… Walmart’s labor law violations range from illegally firing workers who attempt to organize a union to unlawful surveillance, threats, and intimidation of employees who dare to speak out.
And Walmart follows through on its threats. When workers who cut and packaged meat in Walmart in February 2000 voted to join the United Food and Commercial Workers union, many of their fellow workers nationwide decided follow suit and vote for unionization. Walmart responded by announcing a decision shift to using pre-packaged meat in the store. The employees had to wait three years before a court ordered Walmart into discussion with the union, a decision that was still in the appeals process in 2006. Walmart stalled, so the employees brought another complaint to the National Labor Board, accusing Walmart of illegal retaliation. The board ruled again in 2009 that Walmart would have to talk to the union. Both sides sat down in early 2009, but to this day no agreement has been reached.
Mother Jones reports that, "In 10 separate cases, the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that Wal-Mart repeatedly broke the law by interrogating workers, confiscating union literature, and firing union supporters." In one particularity brutal instance in 1997, Walmart fired four union supporters, "one of whom was beaten by the plant’s police on the day of the 1997 election." The workers were eventually reinstated—15 years later. In another case, a Walmart store on the verge of unionizing was shut down. Apparently, Walmart would rather close a store than run a unionized shop.
Walmart has also demonstrated a cycle of abuse via unpaid wages. Earlier this year, Walmart had to pay $1.1 million to 845 workers for unpaid wages. Ehrenreich writes ofworkers that were asked to work overtime without compensation, and in 2001 Wal-Mart was ordered to compensate 69,000 workers in Colorado for $50 million in unpaid wages. In 2008, Walmart paid a settlement fee of $54.25 million to workers in Minnesota, then had to settle another lawsuit that spanned the country to the tune of $352 million. The settlement covered 63 separate cases in 42 states. Last year, the Department of Labor ordered Walmart to pay another settlement fee of $4.8 million to 4,500 employees.