Wal-Mart: An Equal Opportunity Exploiter
Just when you think Wal-Mart couldn't exploit its employees any more, you find out they've been preying on another group of vulnerable workers. A grand jury is investigating Wal-Mart for its role in exploiting undocumented workers who clean Wal-Mart stores.
"We Czechs are willing to sacrifice and work hard, but we definitely weren't earning enough money," said Pavel, one of the detained workers who told the New York Times (11/5/03) he worked every night for eight months without a night off, overtime pay or health benefits.
On Oct. 23, government immigration officials arrested 250 alleged undocumented immigrants at 61 Wal-Mart stores in 21 states. Almost all the workers were employed by contractors to provide overnight cleaning services. Ten were Wal-Mart employees recently hired away from contractors.
Federal officials said that wiretapped conversations suggested that Wal-Mart executives knew the contractors were using undocumented workers. This comes several years after 13 Wal-Mart cleaning subcontractors pleaded guilty to illegal hiring practices. Wal-Mart could face criminal charges and possible fines of up to $10,000 per illegal worker.
In nearly 40 lawsuits across the country, Wal-Mart faces charges from forcing their employees to work overtime without pay to systematically discriminating against its female employees. Just November 6, 2003, a class action suit charging the company with forcing employees to work off the clock and without breaks was certified in Minnesota, making more than 64,000 former and current employees eligible to join. In Oregon, a federal jury found Wal-Mart Stores guilty of forcing its employees to work overtime without pay from 1994-1999.
Low wages combined with unaffordable benefits pushes nearly 50 percent of its workers onto their spouses' health care plan or taxpayer subsidized public assistance. Denial of benefits altogether for their immigrant cleaning crews has had a similar result, leaving those workers to emergency room treatment.
Victor Zavala Jr., one of those in the Oct. 23 raid, who cleaned Wal-Marts in New Jersey seven nights a week, recalled in a NYT interview, a co-worker who sliced his hand open on a floor-scraping blade and was rushed to a hospital. He had problems paying the $800 bill because his job did not provide health insurance and his employer shunned the workers' compensation system. The hospital swallowed the cost.