On Friday November 18, the Democratic Club of Sutter and Yuba County sponsored a free screening of the newly released movie “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price.” The documentary showcased a side of Wal-Mart that the company does not want the public to see. Many turned out for the screening, including Yuba College speech professor Neelam Canto-Lugo, who voiced her concerns about the discount chain.
“The big problem I have with a store like Wal-Mart is first of all they don’t follow any of the labor laws which American society has worked very hard to accomplish,” said Canto-Lugo. “America is a leader in labor practices, and what Wal-Mart tends to do is break all of those laws.”
Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest employer, is one of the nation’s most infamous violators of labor laws and the minimum labor standard. Employees from Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Washington, Illinois, Iowa and West Virginia have sued Wal-Mart for underpaying its hourly workers, and employees from Missouri and Kansas have filed class-action suits, alleging “acts of wage abuse.” These acts include neglecting to pay workers overtime, preventing rest and lunch breaks, and forcing them to “work off the clock.”
Recently the Maine Department of Labor ordered Wal-Mart to pay the largest fine in state history for violating child labor laws. The Department of Labor discovered 1,436 child labor law infractions at twenty Wal-Mart chains.
Wal-Mart has also exploited workers overseas. According to Brandeis University Professor Ellen I. Rosen, women in Central America who make clothes for Wal-Mart live in shacks, lacking running water or plumbing, and women working for Wal-Mart who live in China live nine to twelve to a room in government-provided dormitories.
H. Lee Scott Jr., the chief executive officer of Wal-Mart, said in a speech on February 23, 2005, “Wal-Mart’s average wage is around $10 an hour, nearly double the federal minimum wage. The truth is that our wages are competitive with comparable retailers in each of the more than 3,500 communities we serve, with one exception-a handful of urban markets with unionized grocery workers.”
In actuality, if one does not consider the large salaries of the relatively few highly-paid company executives, such as H. Lee Scott Jr. who makes 897 times the pay of the average Wal-Mart worker, the average Wal-Mart worker’s hourly wage drops drastically.
In the December 16, 2004, “New York Review of Books,” Simon Head, director of the Project on Technology and the Workplace at the Century Foundation, stated, “The average pay of a sales clerk at Wal-Mart was $8.50 an hour, or about $14,000 a year, $1,000 below the government’s definition of the poverty level for a family of three.”
“I don’t make enough money,” said a sales clerk at the Wal-Mart in Linda. “I mean I barely make enough money to pay my bill and everything, but at least I have a job.” The clerk asked to remain unnamed.
Many who shop at Wal-Mart do so because they have the lowest prices, making shopping anywhere else hard to do. “I agree that we all look for cheap things. I mean, why not? If you can get a bargain, take it,” said Canto-Lugo.
However, the Yuba College professor continued, “We may get cheap things, but on the other hand it hurts the society. If you really think about it, the people who work for Wal-Mart don’t live in a society where it’s a cheap lifestyle,” said Canto-Lugo. “Our lifestyle is expensive. We have to live in this society and pay bills in this society; we have to have a living wage, which enables us as working people to live a decent life. And if you work at Wal-Mart, you don’t get that.”
Canto-Lugo summed up, “In a way it contradicts what American society and the American political landscape stand for.”
The Yuba College professor also stated that consumers need to realize that when they support business like Wal-Mart that are hurting their fellow Americans. “We do promote civil liberty and living wages,” said Canto-Lugo. “We talk very vociferously against violations, against sweetshops, and yet if we are consuming materials from Wal-Mart then we are showing our own hypocrisy.”