Wal-Mart: World’s Biggest Employer, and Possibly World’s Worst?

Almost every day now, it seems, we learn a little bit more about the labor and employment policies of Wal-Mart. And it’s hardly ever good news. As recently reported in USA Today, “[n]ever before has the retail empire, founded in 1962, come under such blistering attack [for the way it treats its employees.]” (See USA Today article.) Currently facing Wal-Mart may be the largest sex discrimination case ever, a class action case filed in California on behalf of female employees claiming that Wal-Mart discriminates against women in promotions, jobs assignments, training, and pay throughout the United States. (See Wal-Mart Class website.) This case just received a critical boost when two studies by experts studying Wal-Mart’s pay structure found statistically significant evidence of pay discrimination. (See LA Times article. (Free registration required.)) One study, conducted by Oakland-based expert Richard Drogin, found that female workers at Wal-Mart earned 4.5% to 5.6% less than men doing similar jobs and with similar experience levels between 1996 and 2001 and that among nonsalaried workers, men earned an average of 37 cents an hour more for similar work. The study also found that the pay gap widens higher up the management ladder, with male management trainees making an average of $23,175 a year, compared with $22,371 for women trainees. The second study, a management analysis by Washington, DC-based economist Mark Bendick, Jr., determined that 20 comparable retailers employed a greater average percentage of women in 1975 — 41.6% — than Wal-Mart did more than 20 years later. Today, women make up an average of 56.6% of the management positions at those competitors, the report said. The study found that women were underrepresented in management in Wal-Mart in 49 states, with the greatest gender gaps found at Wal-Mart stores in Texas, Florida and California. (Copies of both studies are available at the Wal-Mart Class website.) Another class action lawsuit claims that Wal-Mart routinely underpays its hourly employees by forcing them to clock out and continue working beyond the end of their paid shifts, and locks the doors of the store to prevent any employees from leaving before the work is all completed. (See Wal-Mart Employment Practices Class Action information.) In a similar case in Oregon, a federal jury in December 2002, found Wal-Mart Stores guilty of forcing its employees to work overtime without pay from 1994-1999. After deliberating for four days, the jury issued its unanimous verdict that Wal-Mart violated federal and state wage-and-hour laws in requiring employees to work “off the clock.” (See Federal Jury Finds Wal – Mart Guilty in Oregon Overtime Pay Case.) Union groups have long had a beef with the nation’s largest retailer, which has historically resisted all of its workers’ attempts to unionize, for its anti-union activities. The United Food & Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) maintains on its website a number of charges against Wal-Mart, including most recently, information about two new National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) complaints for its illegal campaign of intimidation, harassment and retaliation against workers attempting to organize with UFCW in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Noblesville, Indiana. Some of Wal-Mart’s actions under dispute in those cases include allegations that Wal-Mart managers: told associates their union activities were being monitored; asked associates to spy on co-workers on behalf of the company; refused to allow distribution of union literature and confiscated materials from employees; threatened workers who accepted union literature; threatened workers with reprisals including loss of profit sharing due to union activity; and attempted to buy-off workers with increased hours, promises, and tokens in order to discourage support for the union. (See UFCW press release.) According to the UFCW, there are a total number of 45 National Labor Relations Board complaints against Wal-Mart in 25 states. Wal-Mart has been found guilty in 10 of those cases, settled 8 of them and the rest are pending. For further information about some of the ongoing battles against Wal-Mart on behalf of workers, see some of the following websites:

Wal-Mart Watch

WAL-MARTyrs.com

Wal-Mart Litigation Project

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.