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Their union-busting practices are awful, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The retail giant’s famous anti-union policies are nothing new and appear to be getting worse all the time. As further proof of this, a new Walmart training video leaked online has illustrated the specific propaganda the company feeds their employees to prevent them from organizing.
In a particularly revealing sound bite from the video, the company explains, “Our company prefers to have open and direct communication with our associates—we don’t think a labor union is necessary here. And because our associates have said time after time that they don’t want a union, we usually don’t spend a lot of time talking about them.” All of this comes on the heels of Walmart shutting down five stores in four states for “plumbing problems,” an excuse many are interpreting as “union problems.”
In terms of labor regulations, Walmart is basically the Michael Jordan of retail chains. At one point, it was estimated that they were receiving around 5,000 lawsuits a year from workers at Walmart and Sam’s Club stores alike. This is why criticism of Walmart has become about as common the store itself; the Wikipedia page on this very subject is not what you would call light reading.
It’s important that people remember just how toxic Walmart’s views on unions are, but it’s also important not to forget all of their other equally problematic corporate policies. For Walmart, unions are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to atrocities.
To that end, here’s a quick rundown of all the other reasons the company is so awful.
1) Walmart hurts local communities
Of all of Walmart’s egregious practices overtime, this is the one that’s probably the most well-known. For additional evidence, check out the 2005 documentary, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price. Many people are aware that when Walmart comes to town, the company drives out smaller mom-and-pop businesses, but what not everybody realizes is that the presence of Walmart actually does little to bolster the economy of local communities in the long run either.
As Jared Cram at Generation Progress points out:
A study commissioned by the Los Angeles City Council in 2003 found that Walmart is a net loss for the communities it moves into. An influx of “big box retailers” such as Walmart was estimated to cost an additional $9 million in state health care costs and a loss in pensions and retirement benefits so large that the increase in public assistance necessary to make up the shortfall could not even be covered by increased sales and property taxes.”
The truth is that when Walmart moves in, they don’t make things better. Instead, they make things much worse, and create unsustainable economic models in surrounding communities for years to come.
2) The company uses foreign labor, including child workers
It’s been estimated that over 50 percent of Walmart goods come from overseas suppliers. This doesn’t just take away American jobs in favor of cutting costs; it also creates a living hell for those forced to meet Walmart’s hefty supply needs. The corporation has been accused of paying off officials in foreign companies in order to keep many of the details silent, but various stories paint a gruesome picture.
A great example of this is Bangladesh, where the minimum wage for garment industry workers is just $37 a month. The conditions in the facilities where these products are made are incredibly unsafe. A 2012 fire in one factory which made garments for Walmart killed 111 people, while another in 1990 killed 32. And a class-action lawsuit from 2010 alleged that one woman worked seven days a week, from 7:45am to 10pm, putting chalk marks on pants, without a day off for six months.
The corruption doesn’t stop at Bangladesh, though. Global supply chains which aid companies like Walmart have even been linked to the slave trade in Thailand.
To top it all off, it’s been noted in the past that most of the employees at Walmart’s overseas factories may be underage. Harvard Law cites a human rights study from 2006 which found that describes the conditions at one factory in Bangladesh:
The children report being routinely slapped and beaten, sometimes falling down from exhaustion, forced to work 12 to 14 hours a day, even some all-night, 19-to-20-hour shifts, often seven days a week, for wages as low as 6 ½ cents an hour. The wages are so wretchedly low that many of the child workers get up at 5:00 a.m. each morning to brush their teeth using just their finger and ashes from the fire, since they cannot afford a toothbrush or toothpaste.
Of course, Walmart isn’t the only company who has employed child labor, but as the United States’ top retailer, its continued use of the practice is even worse. While the company claims to be changing many of these policies, there is ample documentation which suggests otherwise. By now, child and foreign labor has become such a key part of the fabric of Walmart, and of the product they sell, it’s hard to imagine anything less than a complete overhaul of Walmart’s business methods will change that.
3) Walmart underpays women and neglects pregnant workers
Although working at Walmart may not necessarily be great for anybody, it may also be additionally tough for women. Beginning in 2001, the case of Wal-Mart vs. Dukes sought to change that, but unfortunately, the Supreme Court shot it down in 2011, making it harder for female employees at Walmart and everywhere else to break free from being underrepresented and underpaid.
As recently as 2013, despite the fact that women account for as much as 57 percent of Walmart’s U.S. workforce (and that they employ more women than any other U.S. company), women were paid $1.16 less per hour. That adds up to $1,100 less per year than men doing the exact same jobs, and female employees in salaried positions of $50,000 or over earned $14,500 less than their male counterparts.
And if you think working at Walmart as a woman is hard already, forget about working there when you’re pregnant. Multiple lawsuits against the company are currently fighting for women who’ve been overworked, put in dangerous situations, and fired by Walmart while pregnant. (Fortunately, these cases are coming on the heels of the Supreme Court ruling in favor of pregnant women in Young vs. United Parcel Service.)
For now, we can only hope that this time around, the courts rules in favor of justice, and against Walmart.
4) The company also discriminates against workers with a disability and elderly employees
Besides women, the other marginalized groups Walmart goes after are the disabled and the elderly. In 2001 alone, the company paid $6 million to settle 13 lawsuits filed by various disabled workers. And in 2014, Walmart was forced to shell out $363,419 to settle a suit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of an employee with an intellectual disability who had been sexually harassed.
This year, the company coughed up $150,000 to settle a suit filed by the EEOC for age and disability discrimination. However, the Supreme Court recently ruled against Julie Heimeshoff in Heimeshoff v. Hartford Life & Accident Insurance Co. and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., with Heimeshoff denied disability benefits by the company.
Again, the Supreme Court has proven itself unhelpful when it comes to combatting the evils of Walmart. Some people are getting settlements in court, but the real problem is that Walmart is allowed to keep paying these people off without changing the way they do business.
5) It isn’t a safe environment for employees
In 2013, Walmart finally agreed to update its safety policies at 2,900 stores after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited violations at a store in New York State. The measure covered a multitude of Walmart and Sam’s Club locations, but unfortunately for some, it was too little too late.
In addition to unsafe conditions in factories overseas, Walmart has been notorious for endangering their workers at home, too. The most publicized instances of this have been the company’s practice of night “lock-ins,” which literally locked in overnight employees at several Walmart outlets, in order to make sure they stayed at their jobs.
In 2004, the New York Times’ Steven Greenhouse noted that this policy “has created disconcerting situations, such as when a worker in Indiana suffered a heart attack, when hurricanes hit in Florida and when workers’ wives have gone into labor.” These lock-ins were especially hard on undocumented workers who were employed as janitors, some of whom filed a class action suit against the company claiming that they were forced to work seven-day, 70-hour weeks for $1,500 a month, oftentimes while kept at the store overnight.
They lost the case, and Walmart hasn’t made the news for lock-ins since.
However, just because Walmart has reversed this abhorrent policy doesn’t mean we should forget and forgive. And just because they have updated stores with better safety measures doesn’t meant we should let them off the hook for lacking in safety to begin with.
6) The company is notorious for wage theft
Besides mistreating their employees, Walmart has, in some ways, literally stole money from them over the years. In one instance, the company forced employees to buy new uniforms—when they could have just bought them new uniforms themselves.
In another case, workers in Pennsylvania sued Walmart for forcing them to work through unpaid breaks, meal times, and other instances when they were supposed to be off the clock. At least this time around, workers found justice. Mic.com’s Matt Connolly writes, “Started in 2002 when a worker sued for unpaid wages, the case became a class action suit as other Walmart workers with similar stories joined in, culminating with a court decision ordering Walmart to pay $151 million to workers, plus $33.8 million in attorney’s fees.”
The icing on the cake? The payout had major financial repercussions for Walmart, with their stock dropping six cents a share after the decision came down. Walmart also went through similar litigation in 2011, when they agreed to pay $21 million to workers in Riverside County, Calif., for making them work overtime, sans breaks, for minimum wage—and for no extra compensation.
The good part about these cases is that the workers who were wronged saw some of the money they were owed returned to them. The bad part is that unless Walmart shares drop more than six cents, the cycle is likely to continue.
7) Walmart provides poor healthcare for workers
Walmart employees have been found to be sicker on average than most American workers, and it’s no wonder why. Though the company has taken various steps to provide cheaper insurance, the result has simply been to give their workers plans that include less care. Walmart has also used taxpayer subsidies to provide these benefits, without ever addressing the most important question, which is whether or not the company even pays its employees enough for them to afford health care at all. (Spoiler: Walmart doesn’t.)
In 2014, the company cut insurance benefits to its part-time employees. While Obamacare may provide coverage for some of the 26,000 workers who lost health care benefits, employees who work in conservative states reticent to accept government plans may be left out in the cold.
To make matters worse, these employees were given no choice or warning in the outcome of their healthcare, and as per usual, those that stay on Walmart’s plans will be left with less than adequate coverage. As it stands, employees will have to deal with 20 percent co-pays, as well as a $5,000 out-of-pocket maximum. Thus, in a worst-case scenario, a severely sick employee could end up with a $7,500 medical bill.
8) Walmart has a bad track record on animal welfare
If the way Walmart treats people wasn’t enough to turn you against them, then perhaps the way the company treats animals is. Reports show that Walmart is among the worst companies when it comes to ensuring that the animal products its stores sell came from livestock that was well-treated.
Bottom line: If you care about animals, don’t shop at Walmart.
9) However, Walmart does care about rich people
In 2013, the Walton family received $8 billion in tax breaks, $6.2 billion of which came from federal taxpayer subsidies handed to them because employee wages are so low. Currently, the company is also hosting $21.4 billion in offshore accounts, which remain untaxed by the U.S. government. And in 2014, as Walmart failed to meet shareholder expectations, the company somehow managed to dig up enough money to give its CEO a $1.5 million bonus for performing poorly at his job.
Walmart isn’t just greedy. The company is the epitome of greed. As its overworked and underpaid employees struggle to make ends meet, Walmart’s top brass make billions, even as stock is dropping. Everything about the company is capitalism at its worst.
10) The chain has a deceptive public image
Walmart’s universal reputation as the “bad guys” stings that much more as the company keeps trying to remind us how good it is.
Take their OUR Walmart initiative, which attempts to silence dissenters with positive representations of the company, even as workers flood the Internet with their personal horror stories. Or the Walmart Foundation’s initiative to “fight hunger,” while their own employees go hungry, spending $300 million in taxpayer money on food stamps. Or how about its campaign telling you to “buy American,” even while the company’s new uniforms were made in Jordan.
This is just a friendly reminder that Walmart is terrible. Call it a public service announcement: Don’t shop there. Don’t work there if you can help it. And if you do have to work there, don’t expect to be treated well. Get out while you can, before Walmart takes your spirit, your health, and your dignity.
If Walmart’s ugly practices are a cycle of power and abuse, there’s only one way to break it. And that starts with you.
Chris Osterndorf is a graduate of DePaul University’s Digital Cinema program. He is a contributor at HeaveMedia.com, where he regularly writes about TV and pop culture.
Illustration by Max Fleishman | Remix by Fernando Alfonso III
Chris Osterndorf is an entertainment reporter and movie critic based in Los Angeles. He holds a degree in cinema from Chicago’s DePaul University. His work has appeared on the Daily Dot, Mic, the Script Lab, Salon, the Week, xoJane, and more.