Try as it might, no amount of spin from Wal-Mart’s multimillion-dollar war room in Bentonville, Arkansas can undo the latest bit of bad news for the world’s largest corporation.
According to Fred Furth, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, the retail behemoth violated California’s strict mandatory meal break law 8 million times between January of 2001 and May of 2005.
“Sam Walton established a mantra: the store manager must every year increase sales and reduce labor costs. But that is an oxymoron–they’re lowering the prices on the backs of the people who work for them,” said Furth. “That is why I spent four months of my life at 71 years old making the point to corporate America that we are not in industrial England anymore. We’re in the 21st century and these are good workplace rules, and you’ve got to obey them.”
The California verdict could have a staggering impact on Wal-Mart, which is facing forty similar lawsuits in other states nationwide. “It absolutely sends a message to other juries,” said Furth, “that even the biggest company in the world can be brought to task.”
Shares of Wal-Mart are already down 8 percent this year. (Even hard-nosed investment analysts now see that Wal-Mart is no longer invincible.) As public support for the retailer continues to plummet, it’s become abundantly clear that Wal-Mart better start evolving.
More good news in the fight to reform Wal-Mart: the New York Times reports that the AFL-CIO is launching a new initiative to introduce Fair Share Health Care acts in 31 states across the country.
The laws will mirror Maryland’s legislation that would require Wal-Mart and other large corporations to devote a significant share of their profits to health care for employees. Note: Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich vetoed the Maryland measure, but an overturn is extremely likely due to overwhelming support in the legislature. If you’re from Maryland, click here to email your lawmakers and ask them to support the bill.
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Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.