Labor-led alliance pressures Wal-Mart for change

Unveiling a new "American values agenda" this week, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union launched a new coalition of labor unions, worker advocacy groups, environmental groups, faith-based communities and consumer protection organizations to "hold Wal-Mart accountable to its workers, our communities and the planet."

The union and the new coalition charged Wal-Mart, one of the planet's most profitable companies, with failing to provide living wages, health care benefits and good work conditions for the vast majority of its workers.

UFCW President Patrick O'Neill told reporters, "As the world's largest retailer, and America's number one private employer, Wal-Mart has the largest, most profound impact on jobs and on our economy."

"Nobody wants an economy where workers earn wages that can't support a family," ONeill added. "Nobody wants an economy where people who go to work everyday and work hard have to turn to public assistance for basic needs."

According to a fact sheet at the UFCW's "WakeUpWalMart.com" campaign website, the overwhelming majority of Wal-Mart's 1.4 million US workers "face poverty-level wages."

Because of its large share of the retail market, Wal-Mart's refusal to provide real health care benefits to an estimated 700,000 of its workers has "worsened our health care crisis" by forcing "other employers to reduce or eliminate benefits."

The UFCW also pointed to a massive class action lawsuit involving 1.6 million women who accuse the company of workplace gender discrimination. The company, the lawsuit claims, denied equal pay and promotions based on gender and violated "basic workplace standards."

The retail giant also typically pressures local governments to provide massive tax breaks in exchange for opening a new store, the union-backed coalition stated. The company claims they are creating jobs in exchange for tax breaks, but studies have shown that with the closure of smaller competitors caused by the presence of the giant company, communities often see little in the way of added economic benefit when Wal-Mart comes to town.

The new coalition added that Wal-Mart's business practices harm the environment and public health. The company has "the largest single carbon footprint of any private commercial entity." Wal-Mart takes advantage of weak environmental protections in other countries to "needlessly import goods that are manufactured a world away from the ultimate point of sale." Many imported goods are made in countries where lax public safety enforcement allows goods with dangerous materials to enter the US market.

Such practices not only harm the environment, the coalition explained, they eliminate jobs in local communities.

Above all, the union charged the company with a systematic refusal to recognize the right of workers to organize or join labor unions. The company's strong opposition to unions at it stores earned it a sharp rebuke form Human Rights Watch in 2007 when the group described Wal-Mart's anti-union policies as in violation of the human rights of its workers as well as US labor laws.

"Wal-Mart should change its anti-union behavior," said Human Rights Watch researcher Carol Pier. "When companies like Wal-Mart can regularly violate US workers' right to organize, they threaten a fundamental right and one that the government is duty-bound to uphold."

The new pro-worker coalition has launched new TV and radio ads in several cities to explain the problems workers and communities face as a result of Wal-Mart's corporate policies.

 

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