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Wal-Mart Workers: Cheap Prices Come at their Expense

The Feminist Majority Foundation joined the National Organization for Women (NOW), the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) and other progressive organizations in a Wal-Mart National Day of Action last month, protesting the retail giant’s egregious employee policies. Wal-Mart, the largest company in the US and the biggest retailer worldwide, has credited its tremendous growth in part to cheap product prices that have redefined affordability for American consumers. Ironically, the company’s popularity and economic success have come at the expense of many among its million-plus employees who handle its 3,300 stores.

Wal-Mart is the most-sued company in the nation, according to NOW. Charges against the company run the gamut, including allegations of sexist practices, unfair wages (it’s hourly average of $7.50 is nearly 20 percent below those of competitors), lack of health coverage or expensive health insurance, and coercive anti-union sentiment. In the past four years, the National Labor Relations Board has found the company guilty of illegal work practices in 25 percent of 40 cases with violations disproportionately affecting women, according to NOW and the Nation.

In early September, a US District judge in Atlanta awarded class-action status to a lawsuit charging Wal-Mart with gender discrimination by refusing to cover prescription contraceptives in its employee health plan. Filed by Wal-Mart service manager Lisa Smith Mauldin, the lawsuit sought declaration that the retailer’s health plan is illegal. Roughly 400,000 women out of 1 million employees are eligible to join the lawsuit.

Women comprise 72 percent of Wal-Mart employees but account for only a third of its managers, according to a study by economist Marc Bendick. The same study noted that competing retailers staffed women in half of their managing positions. In Dukes v. Wal-Mart, seven California women, who at some point worked for Wal-Mart, are suing the company for employee gender discrimination. Betty Dukes, who was refused training and employment in “male” departments argued, “I can mix a can of paintÉI want the chance to do it,” reported the Nation.

Four in ten women shop at Wal-Mart weekly. UFCW international vice president Susan Phillips urged, “As women, we have tremendous power. WE control both sides of the cash register. We are the cashiers on one side and we are the customers on the other sideÉ [W]e can change the economic future of women in America,” according to the Nation.

Sources:

The Nation 11/22/02, 12/16/02; NY Times 11/8/02; NOW 11/18/02; UFCW 10/21/02

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