Reader: Wal-Mart choice is ours

Posted: Wednesday, February 08, 2006

If you were the largest corporation in America, would you make sure your workers earned enough to cover basic necessities, that they could afford health care, and that they were aptly rewarded for their loyalty?

I think most of you would.

Well, that’s the difference between you and Wal-Mart. The corporate executives who run Wal-Mart have been running ragged over such simple and basic American work ethics.

It is bad enough they take advantage of every tax loophole, public subsidy and welfare program to make millions off the government every year. More troubling, the company has a history of getting in trouble with the law. Suits against the corporation have been won in New Mexico, Oregon and Texas for wage and hour violations. Wal-Mart’s own annual report for 2005 cited 44 new and active wage and hour legal cases pending against the corporation.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed at least 16 suits against Wal-Mart for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the company has had to pay over $1 million in sanctions for those violations.

Last year, Wal-Mart agreed to pay a fine of over $100,000 for numerous violations of child labor laws. Despite the fine, the company won a promise from the Bush Department of Labor that it gets two weeks advance notice of any new investigations into further abuses.

Wal-Mart is also facing the largest gender discrimination lawsuit in the history of the country.

A study of only 244 of its stores, (out of thousands), found Wal-Mart raked in $1 billion in effective taxpayer subsidies.

A congressional report found Wal-Mart’s low wages mean the average retail employee at Wal-Mart relies on roughly $2,103 per year in public subsidies.

Indeed, in all but one state that have made internal studies public, Wal-Mart topped the list of employees that depend on public programs to provide employee benefits.

This is not an accident. Wal-Mart managers actually spend time helping their employees file for aid and welfare programs.

With thousands of stores and roughly 1.5 million employees, the extent of the public subsidization of Wal-Mart is unclear. What we do know is that the price tag for American taxpayers is simply huge.

Wal-Mart is emblematic of the most troubling features of corporate America. Where it should build a shared prosperity, it instead, races to the bottom.

The fact of the matter is America can’t afford Wal-Mart’s low prices any more. Wal-Mart has a choice. The corporation can become a positive force in our communities or it can continue its path of profit-no-matter-what-the-cost.

We also have a choice, we can accept a company that treats us like Wal-Mart does, or we can demand something better.

Is the promise of low prices enough for you to set aside any consideration of moral or ethical justice? I hope not.

Paul Zimmerman


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