On Nov. 21, working families in all 50 states will join with community, student, civil rights, environmental and consumer activists for a National Day of Action at Wal-Mart stores. Jill Cashen told the World The Day of Action is part of the ongoing People’s Campaign for Justice@Wal-Mart. “We will be demanding that Wal-Mart become a responsible corporate citizen that provides good jobs, equal opportunity, fair business and trade practices and respects the rights of workers.”

Cashen, a media specialist for the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW), called Wal-Mart a corporate outlaw that “has declared war on American workers and America’s unions.”

With revenue of $218 billion, more than a million employees, 4,500 stores scattered around the world (3,300 in the U.S.) and 2001 profits of $6.7 billion, Wal-Mart stands alone at the top of the Fortune 500 list of largest corporations.

There are other numbers: At any given moment, some 10,000 lawsuits are pending against Wal-Mart. Each year it is sued on an average of 13 cases a day on matters ranging from injured customers to discrimination against employees. The total makes Wal-Mart second only to the federal government as the country’s most frequent litigation target.

In the last six years, Wal-Mart has been slapped with at least 75 sanctions—more than the total number levied against all Fortune 500 companies. During that time the National Labor Relations Board has issued more than 40 complaints against the company for labor law violations in 25 states.

Wal-Mart is facing two major sexual discrimination lawsuits. In California, current and former Wal-Mart employees have filed suit alleging company-wide gender discrimination in promotion, compensation and job assignments. In August this year, a federal judge in Atlanta granted class-action status to a lawsuit that contends Wal-Mart discriminates against women by denying health insurance coverage for birth control. According to the National Organization for Women, Wal-Mart reportedly saves about $5 million a month by denying this coverage.

In a letter urging participation in the Nov. 21 activities AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and Doug Dority, UFCW president, said that because of its size, Wal-Mart exerts “tremendous influence” on the practices of other retailers. “Wal-Mart is setting the lowest common denominator for wages and benefits – its workers are paid $2 to $3 an hour less than union workers who perform similar jobs,” the letter said.

Nor is Wal-Mart’s stinginess limited to wages. Despite paying stockholders an average 15 percent return on their investment for the past ten years, fewer than 40 percent of Wal-Mart “associates” can afford the company’s health insurance plan that can cost an employee with two children and no spouse $3,000 annually.

Besides violating workers’ rights, Wal-Mart worsens urban sprawl, destroys community environment and aggravates pollution. In addition Wal-Mart’s giant “super stores,” which dominate shopping malls in many rural areas, destroy the fabric of these communities by displacing family-owned businesses, dispersing their customers and eliminating jobs. The UFCW says for every two jobs Wal-Mart creates, the community loses three.

Nor are Wal-Mart’s anti union activities limited to its own turf. The company – the final destination of one-quarter of all container cargo unloaded in West Coast ports – leads a coalition of retailers that persuaded President Bush to intervene with a Taft-Hartley Law injunction in negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association.

Over the years the UFCW has made sporadic efforts to organize Wal-Mart stores but, so far, at least, the company has fended off all efforts. Today the union is involved in campaigns in Las Vegas, northeast Ohio and Texas. The UFCW and Teamsters have agreed on a joint effort in which the Food and Commercial Workers will organize the stores and the Teamsters the workers at the company’s distribution centers.

In their letter, Sweeney and Dority warned that “survival of our movement could well depend on [the] success” of the effort to organize Wal-Mart.

The author can be reached at fgab708@aol.com

PDF version of ‘AFL-CIO targets Wal-Mart’


Fred Gaboury
Fred Gaboury

Fred Gaboury was a member of the Editorial Board of the print edition of  People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo and wrote frequently on economic, labor and political issues. Gaboury died in 2004. Here is a small selection of Fred’s significant writings: Eight days in May Birmingham and the struggle for civil rights; Remembering the Rev. James Orange; Memphis 1968: We remember; June 19, 1953: The murder of the Rosenbergs; World Bank and International Monetary Fund strangle economies of Third World countries