On June 22, U.S. District Judge Martin J. Jenkins' ruled to allow a sex-discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores Inc= proceed to trial as a class action suit, which may escalate into the largest private employer civil rights case in American history. The case has reignited debate about Wal-Mart's employment and labor practices. The issues being discussed go beyond criticism of pay disparity between men and women – they include disapproval of Wal-Mart's discriminatory hiring practices, low wages, and poor benefits. Here is a sample of what America is saying about Wal-Mart.
Muncie, Ind. – The Star Press
August 5, 2004 – Letter to the editor
"Communities across the nation are saying "no" to Wal-Mart. Here are some facts to consider. Wal-Mart drives out businesses owned and operated by your neighbors, while paying its employees near minimum wage with only token benefits. It is common for some of these workers to further drain the community via welfare, free school lunches, etc.
"Also, to keep prices low, Wal-Mart buys almost exclusively from foreign sweat shops. This causes huge numbers of well-paid Americans to lose their jobs."
San Gabriel, Calif. – San Gabriel Valley Tribune
July 13, 2004 – Letter to the editor – link unavailable
"According to this report [by the U.S. House of Representatives Democratic staff of the Committee on Education and the Workplace], the average hourly wage of Wal-Mart employees is $8.23, and only 41-46 percent of these workers get any health coverage from Wal-Mart.
"Those workers that do get health benefits still end up bearing 42 percent of health- care costs themselves [the national average for large-firm employees is 16 percent.] The report also details other labor abuses by Wal-Mart such as forcing employees to work overtime with no compensation and firing workers who try to organize.
"Recent efforts by Wal-Mart to build a store in Inglewood without having to submit the required environmental impact reports should give us a glimpse into how this company tends to treat local communities."
Rock Hill, S.C. – The Herald
July 13, 2004 – Editorial – link unavailable
"While a new sprawling Wal-Mart complex with general merchandise and a grocery store under one roof may not be some Tega Cay citizens' ideal for a new commercial tenant, saying no to the Arkansas giant may be an even worse alternative.
"Tega Cay residents are not the first to go to battle against Wal-Mart. The company has run into opposition at sites across the nation. Residents in both North and South Carolina have battled construction of supercenters in at least three communities.
"Wal-Mart officials say much of the opposition stems from unfair and inaccurate criticism. Opponents, however, point to the well-documented results of Wal-Mart's entry into some communities. Most notably, they complain that Wal-Mart drives smaller, local retailers out of business and that the giant retailer doesn't invest in the community like local business owners do.
"Wal-Mart also has been accused of discriminating against women employees, sexual harassment, trying to stifle union activity and forcing employees to work overtime without extra pay.
'The foremost consideration in favor of giving Wal-Mart the green light would be the local tax base. Local governments can't rely on residential taxpayers alone to support a thriving community. They need commercial development – businesses such as Wal-Mart – to support schools and other local needs without greatly increasing the demand on services.
"We hope local residents will look carefully at both sides of this proposal before jumping to conclusions."
Buffalo, N.Y. – Speakupwny.com
July 22, 2004 – Letter to the editor
"Old Sam Walton used to say that his company would not go where it is not welcomed. Since the death of Sam, Wal-Mart has taken on a new philosophy and policy, namely, "we will go where no one dared go before us, regardless of consequence to the community and/or it's residents." They still proclaim themselves to be the "good neighbor", but their actions speak otherwise.
'Wal-Mart refuses to be denied and seems over time to "win over" municipal government agencies that reach office and favor their predator business policies that adversely impact the socio-economic status of a community.
"Wal-Mart, good neighbor – NOT!"
New York, N.Y. – New York Times
July 25, 2004 – Editorial
"This could be the central battle of the 21st century: Earth people versus the
"By 2000, measures of mere size – bigger than General Motors! richer than Switzerland! – no longer told the whole story. It's the velocity of growth that you need to measure now: two new stores opening and $1 billion worth of U.S. real estate bought up every week; almost 600,000 American employees churned through in a year (that's a 44% turnover rate).
"Wal-Mart will be in trouble long before that, of course, because with everyone on the planet working for the company or its suppliers, hardly anyone will be able to shop there. Wal-Mart is frequently lauded for bringing consumerism to the masses, but more than half of its own "associates", as the employees are euphemistically termed cannot afford the company's health insurance, never mind its Faded Glory jeans.
"Some stores encourage their employees to apply for food stamps and welfare; many take second jobs. Critics point out that Wal-Mart has consumed $1 billion in public subsidies, but that doesn't count the expenditures required to keep its associates alive.
"Wal-Mart is facing class-action suits for sex discrimination and nonpayment for overtime work (meaning no payment at all), as well as accusations that employees have been locked in stores overnight, unable to get help even in medical emergencies.
"These are the kind of conditions we associate with third-world sweatshops, and in fact, Wal-Mart fails at least five out of ten criteria set by Worker Rights Consortium, which monitors universities' sources of logoed apparel – making it the worlds largest sweatshop.
"Earth to Wal-mars, or wherever you come from: Live with us or go back to the mother ship."
New York, N.Y. – The New York Times
August 1, 2004 – Letter to the editor
"While Wal-Mart proudly purports to exemplify the entrepreneurial spirit that made this country great, it engages in the wholesale exploitation of its work force; the 44 percent turnover rate…speaks for itself.
"The much-ballyhooed business values of this megacompany are not tempered by human values, like fairness and justice, nor by the dignity of a living wage.
"Now faced with class-action suits for sex discrimination and nonpayment for overtime work, management may be contemplating a more employee-friendly workplace. Consumers and investors can further encourage this change of heart by leveraging buying power and not doing business at stores that don't respect the rights of workers, supporting instead companies that practice sound labor and environmental practices."
Kansas City, Kan. – The Kansas City Star
August 4, 2004 – Letters to the editor – link unavailable
"My family has boycotted Wal-Mart for two generations. My mother started her boycott after she looked at Wal-Mart for her investment club. I started my boycott after I heard about their employment practices. Timemagazine recently reported on the Wal-Mart discrimination lawsuit (over) paying women considerably less than male employees. As a health care provider, I am concerned about the employees of Wal-Mart who cannot afford their health insurance because of low wages and purposely high premiums. Uninsured employees utilize the county- and state-funded medical and mental health care in any community that has a Wal-Mart, draining local resources.
"Do we need another Wal-Mart in Mission? Roeland Park at 51st Street has one, 75th and Interstate 35 has one and Metcalf Avenue has two within 12 blocks of each other. That will make five Wal-Marts between 51st street and 103rd street or one Wal-Mart per 10 blocks.
"Wal-Mart representatives want to call people on the city of Mission petition, and I would be happy to tell them how Wal-Mart could shut down two locally owned hardware stores, local employers housed in the mall, not to mention a good restaurant and coffee shop. I can't wait to eat a Wal-Mart hot dog and nachos instead of a healthy meal at the cozy southwestern restaurant in the Mission Center Mall."
Las Vegas, Nev. – Las Vegas Review-Journal
August 4, 2004 – Letter to the editor
"His [syndicated columnist Thomas Sowell] July 25 column clearly betrays how misinformed he is about the general status of working women in this country, and the status of female employees at Wal-Mart in particular.
"First, someone should inform Mr. Sowell that in 2004 women are not only interested in doing work traditionally done by men, we are actually doing work traditionally done by men. The women in the class-action suit against Wal-Mart want to get paid the same as their male counterparts for the work that women already do at Wal-mart.
"Richard Drogen, a professor emeritus of statistics at the University of California, Hayward found that full-time female Wal-Mart employees make $1,150 less per year than men in similar jobs, a 6.2 percent gap. Women store managers make an average of $89,280 a year, $16,400 less than men.
"Second, someone should explain to Mr. Sowell that 65 percent of Wal-Mart staff are women, yet they earn an average of 37 cents less than men. Wal-Mart is, in fact, hiring women instead of men to keep costs down. How do you think Wal-Mart keeps its prices so low?
"In my voting district, nearly 25 percent of all households are headed by single women with children. These women need to put bread on the table; they need to save for their children's college tuition. I imagine many women who have taken part in the class-action lawsuit against Wal-Mart are similar to the women in my voting district. These women are not selfish money-grubbers, as Mr. Sowell implied. They simply want compensation commiserate with what their male counterparts, and their male counterparts' families, receive."
San Francisco, Calif. – The San Francisco Chronicle
August 4, 2004 – Letter to the editor
"A recent study by UC Berkeley's Institute for Industrial Relations concluded that Wal-Mart underpays its employees so much, the taxpayers must take up the slack. California taxpayers pay an average of $1,952 per Wal-Mart worker. The average public-assistance cost per worker at other large retailers with at least 1,000 employees is $1,401. The difference between the Big Retailer and the little retailer is that the Big Guy makes billions in profits, and the little guy struggles just to keep his business from dying when a Wal-Mart-like mega- store moves into town.
"If we taxpayers are going to pay welfare payments to the largest corporations on the planet, we may as well throw in the towel on promoting capitalism as a way to self-reliance."
Akron, Ohio – Akron Beacon Journal
August 6, 2004 – Letter to the editor
"If the residents of Brimfield and surrounding communities object to a new Wal-Mart, I say, good. But don't just be opposed to it quietly — speak out. Call or write Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. Tell your local council and state representatives.
"A Wal-Mart Supercenter, which is the size of 17 football fields, requires 1.2 million square feet of pavement. That has the potential to cause huge drainage problems. In fact, this May, Wal-Mart agreed to pay a settlement of $3.1 million for violating the Clean Water Act, the result of poor construction of 24 stores in nine states.
"As for the promise of bringing new jobs and tax revenue, I suggest you call council members in Streetsboro, where it's not clear whether Wal-Mart has paid its share of taxes or abided by the abatement agreement it was granted when it came to town years ago."