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Opinion

Wal-Mart cheap in pay, benefits

Tracey Pollock

February 12, 2009

Wal-Mart is a common household name wherever you go in the United States, as well as in parts of Mexico, Brazil, Canada and 11 other countries in the world.

The mega store is the largest private employer in the U.S., with 1.2 million employees, and accounts for 8 percent of retail sales (excluding automobile sales) in the U.S. 

I’m sure you have been in the argument that Wal-Mart is evil, but so is every other mega corporation like Walgreens and Target. 

I would generally agree with the ideology that corporations that have profits in the billions of dollars annually are not ethical when it comes to labor relations and where they are getting their products from (sweat shops). However I would, and always do, make the argument that Wal-Mart sticks out among the nasty corporations as being particularly sleazy and underhanded.

Wal-Mart’s slogan has become “Save money. Live better.”  This obviously does not apply to the employees of the company, since the average annual wage of a Wal-Mart employee is just under $14,000 a year. The company continuously claims billions of dollars in profit each year, yet the average worker’s annual income falls below the poverty line for a family of three.

Wal-Mart also openly opposes unions among employees. Managers are given a “manager’s toolbox” to keep employees from organizing a union. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union workers have a 26 percent higher wage than non-union employees.

As well as being underpaid, an estimated 41 to 46 percent of workers in the company are not insured through the company. Wal-Mart does offer a health care plan but has high premiums, which underpaid employees can rarely afford. 

The chief executive officer and president of the company, Lee Scott, said in a 2005 speech that “in some of our states, the public program may actually be a better value-with relatively high income limits to qualify, and low premiums.” So Wal-Mart is screwing their employees over, and taxpayers who pay for the state health insurance plans.

And then there are the lawsuits.

There were 57 lawsuits filed in 2006 alone related to wage and hour issues by employees.  Wal-Mart has had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for these lawsuits in several states. The company also had to pay $6 million in order to settle 13 different disability lawsuits.

In 2001 six women sued the company for discrimination, which later escalated to over one million plaintiffs in one of the largest class action lawsuits in U.S. history. The company has also broken several environmental laws, including being sued by nine states in 2004 for breaking the Clean Water Act. In less than a decade, Wal-Mart has had 85 lawsuits filed against them for an array of issues like the ones mentioned above. 

The statistics I have provided are just the beginning of a long list of ethical violations the company engages in on a regular basis. And this does not even get into the issues of ruining small businesses, getting products from sweatshops or the real cost of the company to taxpayers. This information came from less than a half-hour of research on the company, so there are many more disturbing facts not mentioned.

It is hard to avoid shopping at a place like Wal-Mart or Target, but I urge you to avoid shopping at this store as much as possible, and even all together.

Tracey Pollock is an alumna of UW-River Falls.