National NOW Times >> Fall 2002 >> Article
NOW Declares Wal-Mart A Merchant of Shame
by Cristina Bull, Field Organizer/Volunteer Coordinator
At NOW's annual conference on June 22, President Kim Gandy announced our latest Merchant of Shame in the Women-Friendly Workplace campaign: Wal-Mart.
NOW took this step after receiving numerous complaints regarding workplace environment and employment practices at Wal-Mart stores, distribution centers, and regional and corporate offices.
The extensive public record on cases filed against Wal-Mart, currently the most sued corporation in the United States, reveals disturbing allegations. These include sex discrimination in pay, promotion, and compensation, wage abuse, exclusion of contraceptive coverage in insurance plans, violations of child labor laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Employees have also filed cases charging management with discouraging workers from unionizing, firing pro-union workers and eliminating jobs once workers joined unions.
In addition, Wal-Mart refuses to dispense Preven, the "morning-after pill," in effect imposing a right-wing political agenda on all of its shoppers.
"Imagine telling a rape victim that the only pharmacy in town won't fill her prescription for emergency contraception," said Gandy.
NOW is mounting a public pressure campaign to effect change. This is Wal-Mart's opportunity to be an example of a good corporate citizen. "We're shining a spotlight on Wal-Mart's workplace abuses," Gandy said. "The women and men of Wal-Mart deserve a workplace that respects their rights."
For the top corporation on the Fortune 500 List, Wal-Mart boasts some truly embarrassing statistics. Women comprise 72 percent of Wal-Mart's hourly workers, but are only one-third of its mangers and supervisors.
Only 38 percent of Wal-Mart employees participate in its health insurance plan—the national average is 60 percent—because at Wal-Mart the premiums and deductibles are prohibitively high. This leaves six out of every ten employees (more than 425,000 Wal-Mart employees) with no company-provided health insurance. Two-thirds of them are women.
The complaints against Wal-Mart come from across the nation. Current and former employees in California are suing Wal-Mart for sex discrimination in pay, promotion, and compensation. This will be the country's largest sex discrimination suit against a private employer if it is granted class-action status.
In Washington state, former Wal-Mart employees have joined with employees from at least 12 other states to sue the company for not paying overtime. The former employees allege that they were locked in the store for hours, without pay, while managers completed checks of every department. Workers say they complied because of threats that they would be fired.
In South Carolina, a 10-year-old girl alleged being fondled by a store employee. When the woman and her daughter returned to the store to report the alleged assault, Wal-Mart's response was to give her mother a $25 gift certificate!
The campaign launched on June 22 with a highly successful picket outside of a Wal-Mart in suburban Minneapolis. Over three hundred enthusiastic activists chanted, distributed information about NOW's latest merchant of shame and carried signs like "Always in Court, Always Wal-Mart."
NOW activists all over the country participated in the Sept. 28 National Day of Protest, making it another huge success in this ongoing fight. In an extraordinary act of commitment to economic justice and equal rights, activists made their voices heard at dozens of Wal-Marts across the country, handing out flyers and protesting workplace abuses.
Chapters in larger cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, Syracuse, Boston, Portland and Alexandria, Va., as well as smaller towns such as Columbia, Mo., Colorado Springs, New Brighton, Pa., Portsmouth, N.H., and Morris County, N.J., brought attention to the issues at Wal-Mart parking lots and nearby sidewalks.
In addition to these actions, activists are busy publicizing Wal-Mart's dismal record by writing opinion pieces and letters to the editors of their local newspapers.
"NOW's Merchants of Shame are an important part of the Women-Friendly Workplace Campaign—a pro-active project demanding fair treatment for women workers," said Gandy. "NOW's campaign has already spurred Smith Barney, Mitsubishi Motors and other leading corporations to work toward creating truly women-friendly and family-friendly workplaces."
"We ask every woman who has shopped at Wal-Mart, and every man who cares about fairness, to consider where they want their money to go, and what kind of business they want to support. This country's top employers need to get the picture that women-friendly workplaces aren't just good business, they're good for business," Gandy continues. "I hope Wal-Mart will look at this as an opportunity to do the right thing."
Learn more about Wal-Mart and our Women-Friendly Workplace Campaign online, or call 202.628.8669 ext. 145 for more information.
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