Friday, February 18, 2011

Recap of the NYC Council Hearing: When Walmart Comes to Town

By: Diana Robinson, Food Policy Coordinator

Wal-Mart is the largest private in employer in the country; it also has the largest class action law suit against them for discriminating against female employees. In addition to this it is recognized by Human Rights Watch as the greatest violator of worker rights. So it is no surprise that Wal-Mart was a no show at New York City Council hearing yesterday to discuss Wal-Mart’s labor practices and documented history of discrimination against women.
Before the hearing there was a demonstration in front of the Emigrant Savings Bank where the hearing was held. Protesters held up signs that said “Wal-Mart is Anti Women” and “Wal-Mart sucks the life out of Communities”. They also chanted “Wal-Mart cheats, Wal-Mart hates, Wal-Mart discriminates”. Joining protesters were former Wal-Mart employees from around the country, who testified on their experiences working for Wal-Mart.

During the hearing several panels gave testimony on facts about Wal-Mart’s practices in discriminating against women and violating workers rights. Annette Bernhardt, Policy Co-Director at National Employment Law Project testified that Wal-Mart participates in a practiced called “time-shaving” where if any employee is over 40 Hours they will go into the system and remove the overtime hours to avoid having to pay the employees’ overtime.
Kenneth James a former Wal-Mart department manager testified how after he participated in a press conference to support the Employee Free Choice Act his hours were reduced from 37 hours a week to 18 hours a week; he went on to say that at one point he received a paycheck for $514, and was then forced to live off of $14 for two weeks after having to pay his rent. He also testified that female co-worker also suffered retaliation after participating in the press conference and her hours were reduced to zero.

Councilman Eric Ulrich commented that” We have the toughest laws, Wal-Mart won’t [participate in wage theft] do it here, and that with these economic times any job would be good.” To which Bernhardt responded that is doesn’t matter what laws are in existent if they cannot be enforced because of lack of resources and when the only solution are lawsuits. Councilwoman Melissa Mark Viverito also responded to Ulrich’s comments by saying that New Yorkers ‘don’t just want any jobs, they want good jobs that will help our communities and the people in them grow.’

It was clear throughout the hearing that Wal-Mart has systematic pattern of violating workers rights and discriminating against women: whether it be by cutting pro union workers hours or denying women promotions. Their promise of jobs and low prices isn’t enough for New Yorkers. Wal-Mart’ decision to not appear at the New York City Council hearings and defend its self shows its unwillingness to face the facts and own up to what they have done. It is also insulting to the NYC Council members and the New Yorkers that they represent. How can we allow them to enter our communities if they are not willing to answer our questions and face us?

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