Walmart continually asks Americans to consider what’s more important: justice for its workers or low prices for its customers?
This month, the nation’s largest retailer faces more accusations of illegally threatening and retaliating against employees with the release of a new report entitled: “Fighting For a Voice: Walmart Workers Speak Out Despite Systemic Labor Abuse.”
The 27-page report, released by the labor rights group American Rights at Work, describes the “fear-based” strategies Walmart uses to curb worker organizing, along with its ruthless targeting of employees who associate with the OUR Walmart employee rights group.
More than 150 allegations of workers’ rights violations are detailed in the report, many of which occurred around or after the Black Friday strikes of 2012 that brought national attention to the plight of Walmart workers. (Undeterred, OUR Walmart plans more strikes beginning this week. Striking for better working conditions is protected under labor law.)
While Walmart’s tactics are not new to the company, this report may be the first opportunity for some outsiders to get a near-comprehensive take on how the company tyrannizes its employees.
Some of the more shocking employee intimidation incidents described in the report include a form of sexual harassment and threats of violence:
- A Walmart manager in Kentucky continually harassed employee James Vetato after hearing him talk about workers coming together to improve working conditions. This harassment included the manager making sexual comments regarding Vetato’s teenage daughter. The manager said he would stop harassing Vetato if he made his daughter have sex with the manager.
- A California Walmart manager shouted threats at workers returning from a strike, saying he was going to “shoot” the activists.
- A manager in another store ignored an OUR Walmart member who reported that other employees were threatening her with violence.
The report also documents a laundry list of other intimidation tactics and suspect firings directed at those involved in protected OUR Walmart organizing activities:
- A Texas Walmart employee who was planning to participate in an upcoming strike was accused of stealing from the store, even though she had a receipt for her purchase. Another employee who witnessed this encounter felt intimidated and decided not to strike.
- After participating in the Black Friday strike, Lisa Lopez, a Walmart employee in Florida, was repeatedly called to the manager’s office and cited for “transgressions” that included cutting her finger (Walmart called it “recklessness”) and, another time, for wearing earrings.
- Cindy Lee was told by a Missouri Walmart manager to get some rest at home when she was sick. Then, the manager fired her for “walking off the job.”
- Angela Williamson, an employee of a Florida Walmart, was terminated for being absent while she was hospitalized for a severe kidney infection.
- OUR Walmart leader Gerardo Paladan was injured on the job at a Walmart in Washington State after management refused his requests to fix broken equipment. When managers still ignored him even after the accident, Paladan and 21 co-workers signed a petition asking the store to make employee safety a priority. In response, a manager told Paladan not to “mouth off” and threatened him with extra work and further discipline.
- Associates in Missouri, Illinois, and California said managers tried to socially isolate OUR Walmart members by ordering other employees not to interact with them.
- Employees have suffered reduction in working hours (cuts as drastic as 30 to 12 hours per week) after participating in OUR Walmart activities.
In addition to firing or threatening employees involved in organizing, the report states that Walmart has surveilled and questioned OUR Walmart members, even though it is unlawful to do so:
- Employees of multiple California Walmarts reported that managers followed OUR Walmart organizers when they entered stores and kept track of which workers talked with them.
- Also in California, employees reported that a manager stood by the time clock and recorded the names of everyone wearing OUR Walmart bracelets imprinted with the word “respect.”
- Other incidents involve managers interrogating employees about their activities, using threatening language like “we have you on tape” and demanding to know which employees are OUR Walmart members.
The company has such a well-documented history of firing, surveilling, harassing and interrogating employees for organizing activities that the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel had described Walmart’s tactics as a “pattern of illegal conduct” likely encouraged by company headquarters. The NLRB filed nearly 100 complaints against the retail giant in just one five-year span from 1998 to 2003.
As if employee silencing wasn’t enough, Walmart is seeking to eliminate public protests as well. The company has filed lawsuits seeking to curb freedom of speech and assembly by having Walmart stores and surrounding property declared off-limits to critics.
Meanwhile, non-employees have a lot to be mad about, too, given that tax dollars fund the mega-corporation’s struggling employees:
- Walmart’s poverty wages force employees to rely on $2.66 billion in government help every year, or about $420,000 per store.
- Walmart’s employees also are top recipients of Medicaid.
- As many as 80 percent of Walmart employees depend on food stamps.
- Meanwhile the Walton family, heirs to Walmart, are collectively worth more than $100 billion, making them the wealthiest family in the world.
Do you think Walmart should increase employee wages and benefits – or should Walmart treat its employees however it chooses as long as it keeps prices low?