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Five of the Nastiest Examples of Wal-Mart Evil

From worker mistreatment to putting local stores out of business, here's how Wal-Mart is still fighting for the wrong side.

It seems like Wal-Mart is never out of the news. From intensive campaigns to draw attention to sweatshop conditions in their overseas factories, to efforts to keep the discount retail giant out of urban areas where they’d put local stores out of business, to complaints about gun sales and censorship of music, to massive lawsuits filed by workers in stores around the country, the questionable ethics of the giant corporation remain under constant attack. In fact, there’s even a WikiPedia page devoted solely to criticisms of Wal-Mart.  

In fact, the company’s union busting is so relentless (simply closing branches that push for unionization) while their worker treatment remains sub-par that workers are currently organizing a non-union group to push for fairer wages and hours.

A quick search through AlterNet’s own archives for “Wal-Mart” reveals dozens upon dozens of stories and blog posts from the last decade, detailing everything from worker exploitation in China to “greenwashing” to sex discrimination to, in a case that got decided on appeal last week, breaking an agreement to provide paid rest breaks for workers.

Here are five of the most egregious examples of corporate wrongdoing from Wal-Mart, many of them recently in the spotlight:

No paid rest or meal breaks

Imagine being on your feet all day working an aisle or cash register, and being so harried that you can’t even go outside for your designated rest break--or those breaks count as unpaid time. For many Wal-Mart workers, that was (and possibly still is) the reality.

For these violations, the corporate behemoth has been in the spotlight thanks to a class-action lawsuit begun by two workers in Pennsylvania--on behalf of 187,000 employees--who alleged that Wal-Mart denied them the paid rest and lunch breaks demanded by their contract--thanks to a smaller staff and increased pressure to drive a profit. The plaintiff’s team used the evidence of over 46 million individual work-shifts to make their case. They won their  $187.6 million verdict, and this week the workers won their appeal , dealing another blow to the employer.

As the website for the class-action suit explains , “After a five-week trial, the jury found that Wal-Mart violated state laws and breached their agreement to provide paid rest breaks and to pay for all time that employees worked off-the-clock.” The same decision was upheld on appeal.

Wal-Mart has vowed to continue fighting. In the meantime, a similar case is being filed in Minnesota, evidence that this was a widespread problem.

To see what it’s really like working in Wal-Mart, read this dispatch from John Olympic , who wrote in AlterNet about everyday life working the aisles of the shopping giant.

Widespread Sex Discrimination

While the brave women in the case above sued Wal-Mart for specific violations, other women across the country have joined together to sue Wal-Mart for discrimination, claiming gender-based mistreatment that pervades every aspect of working at Wal-Mart.

Dukes vs. Wal-Mart is the largest civil class-action suits in history, filed back in 2001 by brave employee Betty Dukes and joined by between 500,000 and 1.5 million women. Drawing attention to commonplace instances of a workplace glass ceiling, the denial of advancement, a persistent pay gap between men and women, and retaliation for worker grievances, the case has been working its way through the courts since then and the Supreme Court agreed to hear it this year. A decision is expected soon.

The Equal Rights Advocates sum up the suit here:

 “The lawsuit alleges that female employees of Wal-Mart are denied advancement and training opportunities, paid less than men for the same or comparable work, steered to lower wage departments, subjected to a sexually hostile work environment and retaliated against when they attempt to address sex discrimination.”

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