Wal-Mart Watch: This holiday season, the world’s largest retailer gets a well-deserved Grinch Award from Jobs With Justice:
The largest retailer in the world and largest employer in the United States, Wal-Mart is a sets an ever-lower standard for corporate practices across the country. Studies have demonstrated how Wal-Mart’s practices drive down wages and benefits of service-sector jobs, drain taxpayer money from communities, force the closure of local businesses and destroy manufacturing jobs, in part by importing more than $15 billion a year from China. Despite nearly $9 billion in profits in 2003, Wal-Mart wages are so low many employees are eligible for food stamps. Local taxpayers often are forced to finance Wal-Mart’s expansion through tax breaks and development incentives approved by local lawmakers. Small businesses that offer good jobs often are forced to shut down when Wal-Mart comes to their towns. “Wal-Mart has not only fooled the people who work there, it has fooled the public into believing it’s good,” says Robbin Franklin, a former Wal-Mart manager who worked 11 years for the retailer in Michigan. “Wal-Mart has the American public in a death grip—many working people can’t afford to shop elsewhere, because their own wages aren’t keeping up with the cost of living, thanks to the Wal-Marting of American jobs.”
Wal-Mart has created such high barriers to qualify for its health care benefits, many workers must depend upon publicly financed medical services. According to a research study in California, Wal-Mart workers seek $86 million a year in state aid because of inadequate wages and benefits. Earlier this year, Wal-Mart admitted it routinely locked workers in its stores during their overnight shifts. Saying they have been denied promotions and pay raises because of their gender, a group of women sued Wal-Mart this year in the largest sex-discrimination case in history. In June, a U.S. District Court in San Francisco gave class-action status to current and former female Wal-Mart workers, making it the largest class-action lawsuit ever in the United States, representing 1.6 million women who have worked at Wal-Mart since 1998. Meanwhile, workers say when they seek a voice at work with a union, Wal-Mart launches campaigns of intimidation, coercion and threats. In some locations, Wal-Mart has fired workers for seeking to exercise their legal rights to form a union, according to findings from National Labor Relations Board administrative law judges in Alaska and Florida. Unionized workers in the retail food industry make 30 percent more in hourly wages than their nonunion counterparts, according to a 2002 report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.