10.31.2008

wal-mart update

Here's the latest wmtc check-in on the US's largest employer. You'll find many Wal-Mart related posts on this blog, usually under the labour category.

A few choice bits on Wal-Mart's political influence...
With over $12 billion in profits in 2007, Wal-Mart is the biggest and arguably most influential corporation in America. The majority owners, the Waltons, are therefore also one of the most influential families with a net worth of more than $100 billion. Over the past year, we have conducted an exhaustive study of public records related to political giving by Wal-Mart and the Walton family in order to determine how this influence is used to affect politics. The conclusion is clear. The Waltons are strong supporters of an extreme right wing agenda.

Wal-Mart Profits Lead to Right Wing Influence

The Walton family's political influence around the country is truly remarkable. They exert it through four primary mechanisms: private Walton family political contributions; Wal-Mart's Corporate PAC contributions; corporate lobbying; and the Walton Family Foundation giving. The Waltons use these tools to affect a wide range of policy decisions and regulations. They have used the Wal-Mart PAC and its lobbying efforts to avoid paying taxes, weaken or block environmental regulations, resist corporate transparency, hinder workers rights, block enhanced port security; and tighter regulations on food safety. Through their own private giving, the family has opposed the estate tax, and supported charter schools. Many of our lives are affected by these efforts.

Their labour practices...
Meet Jane Doe

After working at Wal-Mart for nine years with a reasonable accommodation for her disability, Wal-Mart suddenly denied the accommodation. They required her to take a leave of absence and have yet to reinstate her. She has been essentially fired. This is her story. Video here.

No Slack for the Disabled

"I was amazed at all he could do despite his disability, Wal-Mart would cut him no slack."

S.P. and the Leave of Absence Trick

"I had a back injury, which was caused by the conditions of my job at Wal-Mart. They pulled the leave of absence trick on me. They said that I had been off work for too long, and that they could fill my position with a new associate." | Read More

Wal-Mart's Workers Compensation: A Pain in the Back

"I had to use an electric cart to get around. The cart was moved while i was at lunch or in the restroom at least seven times. One time Management even found it in the walk-in freezer. It is clear that I am being discriminated against and hazed because of my disability."

Wal-Mart's quest for a younger, cheaper workforce

"I have noticed that my store seems to schedule all the older people for late night duty...specifically the 2-11 shift. Some have successfully battled for early hours, but now we are being told that if we change our availability, we will be knocked back to part-time."

An employee discusses how Wal-Mart treats pregnant woman

"My heart goes out to AH at the loss of her baby. Shame on Wal-Mart."

A more detailed report on Wal-Mart's contempt for the Americans with Disabilities act...
In August 2007, Wal-Mart Watch began an exhaustive study of all federal discrimination lawsuits, open or closed, filed against Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., and its subsidiaries ("Wal-Mart") from January 2004 until the present. It is already widely known that Wal-Mart is the defendant in the largest workplace gender discrimination class action lawsuit in the history of the United States, Dukes v. Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart Watch's research reveals that Wal-Mart's discriminatory practices extend far be yond simply gender or race, and that the methods of discrimination overall are quite extraordinary. To date, we have found more than 700 discrimination cases filed against Wal-Mart since 2004.

This paper focuses on a subset of that list – cases of discrimination against individuals with disabilities – and highlights two important patterns:

* Wal-Mart's refusal to provide Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA")-mandated reasonable accommodations for employees and applicants with disabilities; and

* Requiring employees with disabilities who request a reasonable accommodation to take a leave of absence.

Wal-Mart's history with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC" or the "Commission"), the enforcement arm of the ADA, is littered with lawsuits, settlements, and broken promises to eliminate barriers for applicants and employees with disabilities. EEOC records show that, by June 2001, the Commission had filed sixteen lawsuits against Wal-Mart for violating Title I of the ADA, the most filed against any corporation since the ADA went into effect in mid-1992. Three additional cases were filed within the next four years. Another new case was filed in September 2008.

The largest settlement came in 2001 -- $6.8 million in total to be paid by Wal-Mart -- when a consent decree was reached resolving thirteen EEOC lawsuits filed between November 1998 and September 2001. This particular settlement required Wal-Mart to hire an ADA Coordinator, who has expertise in the ADA and personnel matters, to oversee Wal-Mart's compliance with and implementation of the consent decree.

Since then, Wal-Mart's ADA office has been busy. Since January of 2004, at least 108 cases have been filed under the ADA in federal district courts across the country. Twenty have already been filed in 2008. Many of these were filed by people who requested and were either denied reasonable accommodations and/or fired. Some were also "encouraged" to agree to take a leave of absence, from which they would never return to work. This paper will refer to the latter tactic as the "leave of absence trick."

This "leave of absence trick" is not restricted to employees with disabilities, as several cases involving use of the strategy with non-ADA medical issues also exist. Slight variations occur depending on the particulars of the case, usually related to the individual's awareness of their rights under the ADA and other laws. However, all cases cited in this report are filed under the ADA, and the general pattern of each is eerily similar.

And one of my special favourites, in case you missed it in the redsock link grab bag post.

Missouri mom Lori Howerton purchased a defective gas can from Wal-Mart.
In 2002, her 12-year-old son Justin tried to help her by using the gas can to burn some branches that had fallen during an ice storm. As he poured gas on the pile of wet branches, the vapors ignited, a flame leaped up and ignited the gas can nozzle. When he tried to blow out the flames, the can exploded and covered him in burning gasoline. Justin suffered third-degree burns over more than half of his body, was permanently disfigured and emotionally traumatized.

If the story ended there, it would be a tragedy. But, there's more. When the Howertons dared to sue Wal-Mart and Blitz, the gas can manufacturer, for selling and manufacturing a defective product, guess what Wal-Mart did? Wal-Mart countersued Justin’s mother, Lori, for negligence! Even more egregious is that the company was aware of the gas can dangers and accidents as shown in heartless videos of executives mocking gas can explosions. [Video clip from "Dan Rather Reports".]

Remember, Wal-Mart doesn't do this because they're greedy and powerful, although they are. They do it because they can. It's the corporation's job to increase profits. It's the government's job to protect citizens, the workplace, the environment and consumers.

When the corporation and the government are indistinguishable, this is what happens.

6 comments:

Ryan said...

Don't forget Wal-Mart shutting down their store in Quebec when unionized and their autodepartment at another store when unionized as well. Not that adding a few more shovels significantly changes that pile of bullshit...

L-girl said...

This list is by no means definitive!

But oh yes, I remember that well. IIRC, a Quebec court forced them to pay a lot of back pay and damages to the employees who lost their jobs. Just as it should be - but is usually not, at least in the US.

Sarah Gates said...

Did you see The High Cost of Low Prices? It's totally preaching to the choir, but sometimes the choir likes a good sermon. After I saw it I had to show it to Dave, who now understands why I refuse to shop there.

L-girl said...

You know, we never bothered to see it, because I've been reading about Wal-Mart for so long, it didn't seem worth it.

But I do know a lot of people who didn't know anything about Wal-Mart who were very influenced by that movie - similar to Supersize Me or Farenheit 9/11. It sounds like the movie did a lot of good.

David Heap said...

We used the film High Cost to good effect here in London, albeit to small groups of already sympathetic people: it helped in consolidating opposition amongst residents who knew they opposed WM in their neighbourhood but didn't necessarily have a broader perspective on all the other reasons to oppose the mega-corp.

Somewhat to our surprise, the campaign here met some initial success: the developer who was promoting the big-box mall had their zoning application deferred in favour of a City-led, community oriented process. The struggle is far from over -- WM has notoriously deep pockets to drag these processes out and try to exhaust, bribe or intimidate opposition -- but the first round went to the residents, community and environmentalists (lest you get too excited: this would have been London's fourth MallWart, i.e. we already have three too many).

L-girl said...

Cool, good to hear. (Except for the part about the 3 others.)