Thursday, October 12, 2006

Fines: just another way to do business, Wal-Mart style

There is not much to say anymore about Wal-Mart. We know about the foreign sweatshops, where workers, including children, are paid pennies a day to make sure they have 'always low prices.' We know about their long history of operating some local stores at a loss for as long as it takes to drive nearby local competitors out of business.

And we know about their history of legal problems. We know about the sex discrimination lawsuit they lost some years ago when they thought they could pay women less for doing the same jobs as men. We know about their violations of child labor laws, when they have been caught making teenage employees work longer than they legally could, during school hours, or making them work in dangerous jobs they were not qualified for. We know about the lawsuit they settled out of court a couple of years ago after their cleaning crews in 23 states were found to include undocumented aliens, some of whom were paid as little as $2 for a night's work.

We know that Wal-Mart screws their employees. We know that in many, many places full time Wal-Mart employees are uninsured because the only health insurance they are offered will eat up almost half of their paycheck, that Wal-Mart employees are often on public assistance, and that they in effect are forcing taxpayers in those communities to subsidize their employment costs by helping pay those employees enough so that they can live. We know that last year they were caught circulating a memo on how to terminate employees who were approaching the time with the company when they would become eligible for retirement benefits.

We know Wal-Mart screws their customers. Our Attorney General, Terry Goddard recently filed suit against Wal-Mart for systematically misleading customers about the price of items they were purchasing.

So should I really be surprised when today a Pennsylvania jury ruled that Wal-Mart was guilty of forcing employees to work during breaks or off the clock for no pay at all? The jury recommended that Wal-Mart pay $62 million in restitution and damages. Pennsylvania becomes the third state in which a jury has reached the same verdict against Wal-Mart (Colorado and California are the other two; Wal-Mart paid the Colorado damage award and is appealing the California award.)

Now why would a company that is trying to get people to buy its products want to always be in the news for something like this? Well, we can get a hint from their settlement on the undocumented worker case. They agreed to donate $11 million to programs designed to deter illegal immigration. Then they rang that up on their cash registers over the next ninteen minutes.

So maybe its because for Wal-Mart, any fines or other consequences they receive as a result of their brazen disregard for the law of for society have already been factored in-- "just the cost of doing business."

1 comment:

shrimplate said...

Frankly I had never really considered that, though now it seems obvious after having seen the way you have spelled it out.

Peak oil will doom WalMart. Soon it will be too expensive to manufacture goods overseas and transport these thousands of miles to high-maintainance big-box stores in remote rural towns throughout America.

Already there are hundreds of empty Walmarts. Soon there will be thousands, most cannibalized by other Walmarts.