The Guardian 25 May, 2005
US: Community anger at Wal-Mart tactics
In the world of retailing, Wal-Mart stands out like a giant. The corporation now has 3700 stores across the US and is expanding rapidly into Canada. It has overtaken General Motors as the US’s largest corporation with profits of US$10 billion on revenues of US$288 billion last year. It has 1.3 million employees.
However, Wal-Mart can lay claim to other, not-so respectable statistics. Over 500,000 Wal-Mart employees walk away from their jobs every year and the retailer is the second biggest target of civil litigation in the country — beaten only by the US government itself to the top spot. All over North America, anger at the behaviour of the union-busting, low wage employer is building and has led to the creation of numerous websites (like http://walmartwatch.com/ and http://www.labourstart.org/wal-mart) where current and former employees tell it like it is. A TV ad campaign funded by a coalition of concerned organisations (and supported by five members of Congress) has been kicked off with the slogan "Love Mom, Not Wal-Mart".
The retailer pays its full-time workers an average of US$9.68 an hour. Working a 35-hour week, these workers earn US$17,600 a year. The US poverty line is set at US$19,157 and it should come as no surprise that Wal-Mart employees are well represented among those applying for medical assistance (Medicaid) and food stamps. Over 700,000 employees have no health insurance at all and where Wal-Mart does pay, it contributes US$3500 a year per employee compared to the typical corporate payment of US$5600.
To make matters worse, Wal-Mart has been exposed regularly in the courts for the most underhand behaviour. In Salem, a court heard that managers often instructed workers in the payroll section to delete overtime and holiday payments to employees. In Portland, a federal jury found in favour of 400 workers who were faced with a demand of working overtime without pay or being fired. Wal-Mart is notorious for taking out insurance for its employees (who they insist on calling "associates") with the company as the major beneficiary of the policy!
Unions are Wal-Mart’s main fear. It has a manual entitled Wal-Mart: A Manager’s Tool Box to Remaining Union Free complete with toll-free numbers to be used in the event that a manager sees a union card in a store. If 30 per cent of workers at a store sign such cards, a vote on whether the union will represent the workers will be required. Wal-Mart recently closed its store in Jonquière in Quebec Canada rather than give in to the will of the workers who voted to have a unionised workplace.
Lately Wal-Mart has reacted to the growing resentment by taking out press ads of its own where critics of the mega-retailer are portrayed as "Nazis". A famous image of a book-burning in Hitler’s Germany accompanies text which sets out to defend consumers’ rights to shop at Wal-Mart which, it is alleged, would be taken away if opponents got their way. Of course no mention is made of the actual right contained in the Universal