Corporate Watch: Walmart
In the past 10 years, Wal-Mart has grown to become the largest retailer in the world. As America's largest employer and most successful company, Wal-Mart has tremendous influence. However, the company's business practices have negative impacted its employees throughout the country. Wal-Mart has let American workers down by lowering wages and forcing good paying American jobs overseas. Its leaders have chosen to cut costs and violate labor laws. As a result of these practices,Wal-Mart has been the subject of criticism by various groups and individuals. Labor unions, community groups, grassroots organizations, religious organizations, and environmental groups have all protested the company's policies and business practices at various times. Review the sections below to learn more about the actions and policies they are protesting.
Wal-Mart appears committed to following anti-union policies and preventing workers from organizing. It has issued a Toolbox to Remaining Union Free to managers that provides a lists of warning signs that workers might be organizing. In past few years, over 100 unfair labor practice charges have been filed against Wal-Mart throughout the country, with 43 charges filed in 2002 alone. Violations include illegally firing workers who attempt to organize a union, unlawful surveillance, threats, and intimidation of employees. When a Wal-Mart store in Jonquierre, Quebec became the first unionized Wal-Mart in North America, Wal-Mart closed the store down.
Wal-Mart, a frequent violator of wage and hour laws, now finds itself defending its labor practices in legal battles across the nation. Wal-Mart is currently facing more than 80 lawsuits alleging that employees were forced to work off the clock and skip lunch and rest breaks while management manipulated time and wage records in order to keep labor costs down. An internal audit performed by Wal-Mart in July 2000 indicated these types of violations were and had been a massive problem companywide for years. The lawsuits allege that Wal-Mart knew that it was violating the Fair Labor Standards Act and hid evidence of its illegal practices in order to attempt to avoid liability.
Nationally, 64% of workers in companies of 5,000 employees or more receive their health benefits from their employer. However, Wal-Mart typically covers only around 50% of its employees. In addition, the average wait for full-time Wal-Mart workers to qualify for benefits is six months, compared to the retail average of 2.6 months. Wal-Mart avoids providing benefits by relying more heavily on part-time workers, who must wait a year before receiving any benefits. In addition, with Wal-Mart's high employee turnover rate, many workers never get health care. The affordability of Wal-Mart's health plan options is another problem. Getting Wal-Mart's choice network family plan with a $322.60 bi-weekly premium, $700 annual deductible, $500 health care credit, and $4000 out-of-pocket medical expenses could potentially cost over $12,000 a year. However, the average Wal-Mart employee makes approximately $20,000 a year.
Wal-Mart typically pays its sales associates, cashiers, team leaders, and overnight stockers 26-37% less than the national average for the same jobs in the retail industry. A study conducted by Dr. Richard Drogin in 2003 revealed then women earn less than men and hold fewer managerial positions at Wal-Mart. Using Wal-Mart's figures, a full-time employee at 34 hours per week, making the Wal-Mart average wage of $10.86 per hour, will earn $19,200.48 per year. This falls below the federal governmentâ€™s definition of poverty for a family of four in the contiguous United States, which is $21,200.
In 2001, the Environmental Protection Agency and Justice Department fined Wal-Mart for violating newly adopted standards for storm water runoff. In 2004, Wal-Mart faced fines for violations of environmental laws in nine states and paid the government $400,000 to settle claims that it had violated air pollution regulations in eleven states. Wal-Mart was also fined in Georgia for allowing polluted storm water to run into state waters and in Florida for failing to adhere to safety restrictions on petroleum storage at its auto service centers. Currently, Wal-Mart is under investigation for ignoring hazardous waste laws in several states.
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