The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), which represents the nation’s grocery and retail clerks, has set Jan. 14 as a National Day of Action against Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer.

Last year UFCW held actions outside hundreds of different Wal-Mart stores during the first National Day of Action demanding that Wal-Mart respect the right of its employees to unionize, grant living wages, provide affordable quality health care, treat injured workers fairly and end discrimination.

Wal-Mart says its 1.4 million “associates” are “valuable assets” and has a unique way of showing it’s appreciation: It buys life insurance policies on its employees without their consent and then cashes in – tax-free – when the employee dies. The company currently maintains 350,000 of these “Dead Peasant” insurance policies.

According to research done by the Institute for Women’s Policy Studies, Wal-Mart workers are paid $3 per hour less than employees in union stores. Nearly half of the company’s employees earn poverty wages, 35 percent have no retirement plan and 700,000 have no health care.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney has called Wal-Mart a “corporate outlaw,” a charge well documented by the record:

• Wal-Mart was sued 4,851 times in 2000, about once every two hours, every day of the year.

• Wal-Mart faces 38 lawsuits in 30 states accusing the company of forced – and “off the books” – overtime.

• In a class-action lawsuit in Texas on behalf of 200,000 current and former employees, statisticians estimate that Wal-Mart underpaid its employees by $150 million over a four-year period.

• In a Colorado lawsuit Wal-Mart paid $50 million to 69,000 former and current employee for unpaid forced overtime.

• From 1998 through 2000 the National Labor Relations Board filed more than 40 complaints accusing Wal-Mart of illegal practices, including firing union supporters, threatening bonuses, spying and coercing employees.

Although wages and benefits are its chief concern, the UFCW charges Wal-Mart with driving smaller competitors out of business and causing job loss in communities where its stores exist. According to the union, “three existing jobs are destroyed for every two jobs created at Wal-Mart.”

Although Wal-Mart is still king of the hill in the retail world, public opinion is slowly shifting against it, a shift that reaches into the business community.

In the cover story of its Oct. 6 issue, Business Week asks, “Is Wal-Mart too powerful?”

“Low prices are great,” the story begins. “But,” it continues, “Wal-Mart’s domination creates problems – for suppliers, workers, communities, and even American culture.”

The article says 30 supermarkets closed since Wal-Mart move into Oklahoma City and that the annual turnover rate among Wal-Mart’s hourly employees is 44 percent.

The authors can be reached atand tonypec@pww.org

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