By a unanimous vote on Thursday, Chicago’s City Council passed one of the strongest “wage theft” laws in the United States. The move was hailed by labor activists, who’ve long complained that wage theft — not paying workers what they’re legally owed — is one of the easiest crimes to get away with.
“Now the bosses are going to know that the workers have rights, too,” said Maria Garcia, a member of the labor group Arise Chicago, which spearheaded the campaign to pass the law. Interviewed in Spanish, Garcia said she’d experienced wage theft at both of the past two restaurants where she’d worked.
Last week, in a previously unreported e-mail, a senior Walmart official informed a union-affiliated warehouse workers group that the retail giant was breaking off a nascent dialogue with the organization. The January 11 e-mail came one day after the labor group, Warehouse Workers United, published an open letter to Walmart’s board blasting the company’s latest plans for monitoring working conditions in its warehouses. It came four days before Walmart announced plans to improve the scheduling system in its retail stores, which has long drawn criticism from another union-backed workers group, OUR Walmart.
“It’s unfortunate that Walmart appears to not be willing to engage in a dialogue at this stage,” WWU Director Nick Allen told The Nation Thursday.
New York City—Walmart drew positive press and White House praise this morning for pledging to hire 100,000 veterans over the next five years. The plan, first reported by the The New York Times, was formally announced by Walmart US President Bill Simon in a keynote address at a National Retail Federation conference. It was panned by labor activists, dozens of whom marched through the Jacob Javits convention center lobby following Simon’s speech.
“Sadly,” Simon told the NRF gathering, “too many of those who fought for us abroad now find themselves fighting for a job when they get home.” He called veterans “leaders with discipline” and “a purpose instilled in them by their military training. We need that in our business.” Simon urged the assembled retailers to followed Walmart’s example: “We could be the ones who step up for our heroes just as they stood for us.”
A top official at the nation’s largest union federation slammed a Social Security cut proposal that’s been floated by President Obama, but stopped short of calling it a deal-breaker in the next round of budget wars.
“We remain strongly opposed” to chained CPI, AFL-CIO government affairs director Bill Samuel told Salon. “It’s a very substantial benefit cut.”
Two Democratic Congressmen today released internal Walmart documents which they said appear to directly contradict Walmart’s recent claims regarding alleged rampant bribery by its Mexico subsidiary. The documents include what appear to be seven year-old e-mails in which current Walmart CEO Mike Duke was directly informed of the scandal. At the time, Duke was serving as Walmart vice chairman, responsible for Walmart international.
“We are concerned that your company’s public statements that the company was unaware of the allegations appear to be inconsistent with documents we have obtained through our investigation,” representatives Henry Waxman and Elijah Cummings wrote in a letter to Walmart CEO Michael Duke released this morning. “Contrary to Wal-Mart’s public statements, the documents appear to show that you were personally advised of the allegations in October 2005.” Cummings and Waxman are the ranking Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the House Energy & Commerce Committee, respectively. Walmart did not immediately respond to the Nation’s request for comment.
With President Obama poised to tap current chief of staff Jack Lew as his next treasury secretary, Republicans are already attacking Lew for supposed slights during budget talks. Some progressives may bring renewed scrutiny to his time at CitiGroup. But if history is any guide, there will be little talk about another line on Lew’s résumé: The key role he played in New York University’s campaign to rid itself of a graduate student workers’ union.
Lew, the former director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Clinton, joined NYU as chief operating officer and executive vice president in 2004. At the time, NYU was the only private university in the United States whose graduate students had a union contract. By the time Lew left two years later, NYU graduate students had lost their collective bargaining rights. In between, picketers hoisted “Wanted” posters with his face on them.
In a tentative ruling released minutes ago, District Court Judge Christina Snyder signaled she intends to grant a request to add Walmart as a named defendant in a federal class action lawsuit over alleged wage theft at its California distribution centers. The ruling is a setback for the retail giant, which has maintained that it is not legally responsible for the alleged abuses by its contractors and subcontractors. Judge Snyder will hear arguments from attorneys for both sides today, and could issue a final ruling within hours.
Walmart did not respond to a Saturday request for comment on the case, and did not immediately respond to an inquiry regarding the decision. A spokesperson for Warehouse Workers United, the union-affiliated group supporting the plantiffs, said that attorneys were not immediately available to comment given the hearing underway. The tentative ruling follows strikes by subcontracted warehouse workers in California and Illinois, and increased scrutiny regarding Walmart contracting in the United States and abroad.