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February 24, 2005

Wal-Mart on the Run from Its Record

Wal-Mart used children for hazardous jobs in its U.S. stores according to a U.S. Labor Department investigation as reported in the New York Times on February 12, 2005. Wal-Mart is being sued for sexual harassment in Florida by the federal government as reported in the Bradenton Herald on February 18, 2005. Wal-Mart was cited in Alabama for having the most employees on taxpayer-funded Medicaid health program as reported in the Associated Press on February 22, 2005. Wal-Mart is the target of a Georgia legislative initiative on companies with large number of employees receiving taxpayer-funded health care after it was revealed the retail giant ranked number one for employees on the government health program as reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on February 23, 2005.

In a ten-day period, Wal-Mart compiled a virtually unmatched public record of abusive, illegal and irresponsible conduct involving women, children and taxpayers. These most recent reports come on top of Wal-Mart already facing the largest sex discrimination lawsuit in history, court convictions for forcing employees to work without pay, and government complaints for the illegal firing and intimidation of workers for exercising workplace rights. In Canada, Wal-Mart is closing a store and taking away the livelihoods of almost 200 workers rather than comply with the law providing a fair and impartial process to reach a contract with workers.

So what does Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott do?  He delivers a speech attacking the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW).

In his speech delivered in Los Angeles yesterday, Scott glibly ignored the company’s very public record of shameful conduct; blamed the UFCW and other critics (the “guppies” according an earlier Scott pronouncement) for his problems; and, created an alternative reality where low wages, unaffordable benefits, the massive export of U.S. jobs to overseas sweatshops, the suppression of worker rights and taxpayer subsidies for the giant retailer have somehow made the world a better place.

The Scott speech continues a public relations offensive launched several weeks ago to prop up the company’s sagging image, pump up stagnate stock prices, and sidestep holiday season reports that competitors from Sears to Best Buy offered lower prices. The speech contains the same willful distortions and Orwellian double-talk as the company’s ad campaign. Repeating a lie does not make it true.

Scott brags, as did the ads, about the number of full-time employees– except full time in Wal-Mart speak is about 30 hours a week, not 40 hours as in the rest of reality. Scott proudly proclaims that Wal-Mart’s average wages are about twice the minimum wage. He ignores that Wal-Mart uses its enormous political clout– the largest political giver in 2004– to keep the minimum wage in real terms at its lowest level in decades.  Even at the supposed Wal-Mart average wage, a family with a Wal-Mart income is still left scraping the poverty line. Scott cites Wal-Mart health insurance as a positive, but fails to mention that 700,000 Wal-Mart associates do not have the company’s health insurance, and that those who do, pay more on average than employees of other major companies.

In instance after instance, Scott contorts the facts to serve his own purposes. He cites the lack of opposition to his company in communities across California, and declares opposition to Wal-Mart is limited to urbanized areas– except the overwhelming majority of Californians live in those urbanized areas. He talks about company tax payments, but doesn’t mention the tax costs the retailer imposes on states and communities with its low wages and lack of affordable health benefits.

Despite Scott’s protestations, Wal-Mart is not just a simple retailer. Wal-Mart is the largest single economic force in history. It is the largest private employer in the country, and the largest corporation in the world. Walton family members comprise five of the ten richest people in the world. About one percent of the wealth of just one of the Walton richest five would provide affordable health insurance for all Wal-Mart workers in the U.S.  Wal-Mart is about high profits, not low prices.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union has 1.4 million members working in neighborhood supermarkets, retail stores, meat packing and food processing plants. UFCW retail members work for major retailers such as Kroger, Safeway and Albertsons.

February 18, 2005

Grocery Workers To Vote On Vastly Improved Settlement

Washington DC—Denver-area UFCW members working at Kroger operated King Soopers supermarkets will be voting over the next few weeks on a settlement designed by a federal mediator.

The UFCW International Union intervened to discontinue voting last November on a company contract offer that would have jeopardized health care coverage not only for Denver-area UFCW members but also members across the country. After a subsequent negotiating session ended in no movement toward a settlement, the company requested that the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service design a projected agreement based on bargaining documentation submitted by both the union and the company. When UFCW members serving on the bargaining committee representing King Soopers’ workers agreed to the process, the mediation service took up the task of putting a settlement together.

“The projected agreement ensures affordable health care for UFCW members and is in line with other agreements recently ratified in Seattle, Northern California, and Las Vegas,” said UFCW International President Joe Hansen. “It’s definitely a major improvement over the company’s offer last year.”

The settlement option preserves affordable family health care. Under the projected agreement, UFCW members will have a $5 to $15 weekly premium co-pay, depending on the type of  coverage.  The company’s original offer would have destroyed the grocery workers’ health and welfare fund and eliminated any meaningful family coverage.

The agreement option also secures the workers’ pension fund, requiring increases in the company’s pension contributions, and provides real wage increases, as well as bonuses. There is no two-tier wage or health care benefit provision in the contract, although new workers will have to wait longer to achieve the full wage and benefit package.

“The last two years at the negotiating table have been extremely contentious, especially on the health care issue,” Hansen pointed out. “Denver negotiations haven’t been any different. I think the mediator’s crafted settlement allows UFCW members working at King Soopers to provide financial and health care security for their families.”

February 17, 2005

Stop Child Labor At Wal-Mart

Food and Commercial Workers Union and Child Labor Coalition Present Proposal to Immediately Stop the Use of Children in Hazardous Jobs at Nation’s Largest Employer

Wal-Mart could stop illegal child labor in its stores through distinctive employee badges for underage workers that could readily identify them as being prohibited from hazardous assignments, according the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the Child Labor Coalition. Combined with unannounced Labor Department inspections, the use of children for hazardous jobs would come to a rapid halt.

The two organizations are sponsoring, at www.ufcw.org, an e-mail campaign directed at Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott and U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao asking them to abandon a sweetheart deal on child labor announced earlier this week, and to take meaningful action to end the abuse of young workers.

Key to the union/coalition proposal is the re-badging of underage workers. Both managers and young workers would always be aware that certain assignments are illegal. Compliance would require unannounced inspections to make sure that badges are properly issued, and that no manager is pressuring minors into illegal assignments.

Scott and Chao are being presented with a demand to amend a settlement agreement that required the Labor Department to give Wal-Mart an unprecedented 15 days notice before any inspection. Advanced notice clearly undermines compliance, and allows managers simply to re-assign underage workers before an inspection.

Hundreds of children are maimed and crippled in accidents, some losing arms and legs, every year involving balers and compactors commonly used in Wal-Mart and other retail stores to handle the disposal of boxes and similar materials. The law has long prohibited minors from operating this kind of machinery. A Labor Department investigation brought allegations that Wal-Mart was using illegal child labor to operate the hazardous equipment in several states. To settle the case, Wal-Mart paid $135,000 and the Labor Department agreed to advance notice of inspections.

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The UFCW and Child Labor Coalition’s actions today are supported by leading worker advocates in the U.S. Congress, including Representative George Miller (D-Calif.) and Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). Their statements follow:

Statement of Representative George Miller (D-Calif.), Senior Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce

I congratulate UFCW and the Child Labor Coalition for proposing a workable, inexpensive and effective way to end the illegal use of child labor, and I would hope that both Wal-Mart and the Department of Labor will respond positively.

Statement of Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) on Wal-Mart’s Sweetheart Deal with Department of Labor on Child Labor Violations

The Department of Labor has shamefully abdicated its responsibility by acquiescing in Wal-Mart’s continuing violation of child labor laws and other worker protections. Even worse, the Department conspired with Wal-Mart to conceal this sweetheart deal from the public. The Department is there to enforce the law, not be muzzled by America’s largest employer.

 

February 14, 2005

Wal-Mart Uses Children for Hazardous Jobs in U.S. Stores

STATEMENT OF THE UNITED FOOD AND COMMERCIAL WORKERS INTERNATIONAL UNION

The nation’s largest employer, and one the nation’s largest corporate political donors, was cited for using children in dangerous jobs in its U.S. stores; and, then got a sweetheart deal that gives the company fifteen days advance notice before the government will initiate any investigation of future violations of federal workplace laws.

According to allegations contained in a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor, Wal-Mart was engaged in the unconscionable practice of using children to operate hazardous machinery in stores in New Hampshire, Arkansas and Connecticut. The machinery referenced in the case— balers, shredders and compactors— are standard equipment in retail stores, and are commonly associated with injuries involving the crushing or severing of arms and hands. Safety regulations on the books for decades have prohibited employers from using  children to operate the machines. A company the size of Wal-Mart with a long history of operating retail stores should have been well aware of the law as well as the dangers to children in operating the restricted machinery.

While the corporate giant with billions of dollars in revenue agreed to pay a $135,000 fine, its representatives got a sweetheart deal that could insulate the company from getting caught in future violations. Wal-Mart gets fifteen days written notice of any government investigation or audit. Wal-Mart can work a child on a compacting machine or baler without fear of any unannounced enforcement action, and simply reassign the child worker during the time of the prearranged inspection. Further, the agreement allows the company ten days to correct the violation. A literal reading of the agreement would allow Wal-Mart to continue to put children at risk for over a week even if the government uncovered the violation.

Wal-Mart was the biggest political giver in the 2004 election, with the overwhelming majority of its money going to the party controlling the White House, Congress— and, the Department of Labor.

The UFCW is preparing a letter to the Secretary of Labor, and will seek Congressional review of the agreement.

February 11, 2005

Reports Confirm Line Speed, Discrimination Put Meatpacking and Poultry Workers at Risk

Washington DC — The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) urges immediate action to correct dangerous line speeds in meatpacking and poultry plants where injury rates are three times that of other manufacturing sectors.

A report by the Government Accounting Office (GAO), ordered by Senator Edward Kennedy, shows what workers in the industries have been subjected to for years:

  • Dangerous line speeds
  • An absence of injury and illness monitoring by OSHA
  • Intimidation that leads to under-reporting of injuries
  • Department of Agriculture inspectors without adequate training for recognizing hazardous conditions

“Blood, Sweat, and Fear,” a Human Rights Watch report, finds that the industries’ largely immigrant workforce “contend with conditions, vulnerabilities and abuses, which violate human rights,” including:

  • Life-ending injuries
  • Lack of compensation for injuries
  • Discrimination against immigrant workers
  • Illegal company actions to suppress workers’ rights to form unions

The reports call for immediate action by both employers and federal and state governments to rectify these conditions. “The GAO and Human Rights Watch reports have put the spotlight on these industries,” said UFCW International President Joe Hansen. “These findings underscore the need for immediate concrete action to correct these long-standing problems to ensure the safety of workers who put dinner on the table for American families.”

February 11, 2005

Freedom of Choice Delayed is a Freedom of Choice Denied for Wal-Mart Workers in Pennsylvania

(New Castle, Penn.) – Wal-Mart forced workers to wait four and a half years for an election in their Tire & Lube Express Department of the Wal-Mart Supercenter in New Castle, Pennsylvania.  Meanwhile, Wal-Mart’s high turnover rate pushed out the union supporters who began organizing with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 880 in June, 2000, because they felt Wal-Mart ignored their complaints about safety hazards.

Then, two days ago, Wal-Mart announced plans to shutter its store in Jonquiere, Quebec, rather than face the decision of the Quebec Labor Ministry that would have initiated a process to establish a fair and impartial wage and benefit settlement between Wal-Mart and its workers.  Today under the appearance of opportunity, the workers failed to gain a voice on the job — because Wal-Mart had already silenced their voice.

“Wal-Mart struck the final blow against these New Castle workers by showing them and the whole world to what lengths it will go to deny their employees a voice on the job.  It’s not surprising that the Tire & Lube Express workers would turn away from union representation after Wal-Mart’s actions in Canada,” said Joe Hansen, UFCW International President.

“Wal-Mart is the richest corporation in the world, yet cowers in fear of a unified workforce.  It is reprehensible that this giant corporation would drag out a union election process for nearly five years, drive union supporters out and strike fear into the hearts of workers who simply asked for the opportunity to participate in a democratic process at work,” continued Hansen.

The UFCW has launched a campaign to mobilize workers and community members to send a strong message to hold Wal-Mart accountable for its anti-worker actions.  To get involved with the UFCW campaign and to sign on to the electronic petition, visit www.ufcw.org

 

February 11, 2005

Wal-Mart Runs Away From Workers and Runs Over Workers’ Rights

No one validates Wal-Mart criticism better than Wal-Mart itself. The retail giant announced plans to shutter its store in Jonquiere, Quebec rather than work with its employees and their certified representative, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).

Joe Hansen, UFCW International President, announced a major grassroots mobilization targeting Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott that will reach out to workers and concerned community members to take action in support of Wal-Mart associates. The UFCW launched an electronic petition campaign to Wal-Mart calling on the retail giant to, abandon plans to close its Jonqueiere, Quebec, store, and to live up to the responsibilities that come with being the worlds largest corporation. Those responsibilities begin with respecting workers, consumers and communities.

Hansen said, “”Wal-Mart is choosing to destroy the livelihoods of nearly 200 working families rather than accept a compromise agreement with workers. It is clear from its actions in Jonquiere and in Jacksonville, Texas, that Wal-Mart will go to any length to avoid recognizing its workers organized voice on the job.””

Wal-Mart announced, yesterday, it was shutting down the store where workers had unionized six months earlier. Workers at the Jonquiere, Quebec store had been in negotiations with Wal-Mart the last several months, attempting to reach a fair agreement on wages and benefits. The company pulled the plug on the store when the workers appealed to the Quebec Labor Ministry to initiate a process that would establish a fair and impartial wage and benefit settlement.

Wal-Mart is no good for any community when it turns its back and runs away from its employees. The only way Wal-Mart will change its behavior toward workers and our communities is by people coming together and sending a unified message to the giant corporation. To get involved with the UFCW campaign and to sign on to the electronic petition, visit www.ufcw.org

February 11, 2005

Food and Commercial Workers Name Michael J. Wilson Legislative & Political Affairs Director

 

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) announced the appointment of Mr. Michael J. Wilson as Legislative & Political Affairs Director for the 1.4 million members of the UFCW.

Wilson has served as Chief Lobbyist for the UFCW since 1999 where he developed and implemented a legislative program to advance and protect the interests of UFCW members, their jobs, families and their communities.

Wilson came to the union after a long career of shaping legislative efforts to serve working people.  Wilson served as the Chief of Staff for the Assistant Secretary of Labor of the Employment Standards Administration (ESA) of the U.S. Department of Labor.   He also served as a Senior Legislative Officer in the Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs at the U.S. Department of Labor.

Prior to joining the Clinton Administration, Mr. Wilson spent five years as the Legislative Representative for the Legislative and Political Department of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU).  Mr. Wilson also served as legislative and press assistant for the Honorable Charles Hayes of Illinois, a former UFCW International Vice President, during his tenure as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Joe Hansen, UFCW International President, said, “Michael brings a wealth of experience and a solid commitment to working families to his new position. We look forward to his leadership on behalf of UFCW members, and all working people, in the legislative and political arenas.”

February 11, 2005

Food and Commercial Workers Name Michael J. Wilson Legislative & Political Affairs Director

 

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) announced the appointment of Mr. Michael J. Wilson as Legislative & Political Affairs Director for the 1.4 million members of the UFCW.

Wilson has served as Chief Lobbyist for the UFCW since 1999 where he developed and implemented a legislative program to advance and protect the interests of UFCW members, their jobs, families and their communities.

Wilson came to the union after a long career of shaping legislative efforts to serve working people.  Wilson served as the Chief of Staff for the Assistant Secretary of Labor of the Employment Standards Administration (ESA) of the U.S. Department of Labor.   He also served as a Senior Legislative Officer in the Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs at the U.S. Department of Labor.

Prior to joining the Clinton Administration, Mr. Wilson spent five years as the Legislative Representative for the Legislative and Political Department of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU).  Mr. Wilson also served as legislative and press assistant for the Honorable Charles Hayes of Illinois, a former UFCW International Vice President, during his tenure as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Joe Hansen, UFCW International President, said, “Michael brings a wealth of experience and a solid commitment to working families to his new position. We look forward to his leadership on behalf of UFCW members, and all working people, in the legislative and political arenas.”