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Wal-Mart Watch

June 26, 2009

Women Be Wary

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BREAKING NEWS:  Wal-Mart Changes Policy, Agrees to Carry Plan B

An important message for American women: Wal-Mart wants your business.  But be wary of what it is they’re really selling you.

On critical issues of women’s health, women’s work, and women’s worth, Wal-Mart’s real record is a sad one.  As the largest private employer in the United States, that record is shameful for the messages it sends to the millions of women whose lives are affected by the company – as an employee or as a consumer.

Consider this:  Just after a Massachusetts state agency forced Wal-Mart to carry emergency contraceptives in that state, the company proclaimed concern: “Women’s health is a high priority for Wal-Mart.” But that revelation is surely news to a big portion of Wal-Mart employees: namely, women.  This company’s record hardly demonstrates that “priority.”

When it comes to fairness in the workplace it’s too often “Wal-Mart vs. Women.” The Massachusetts decision was a step forward, but a long road is ahead. Here are just four examples of the discrimination and disadvantage women face at the world’s biggest corporation.  The message is clear:  women be wary of Wal-Mart.

Largest Class Action Suit. Ever.

In 2004, a U.S. District Court granted 1.6 million former and current Wal-Mart employees class-action status in the Dukes v. Wal-Mart case. The case shows that Wal-Mart systematically pays women less than their male counterparts, and offers them fewer opportunities for promotion. As one employee testified, Wal-Mart’s policy is: “Men are here to make a career and women aren’t. Retail is for housewives who just need to earn extra money.” As part of the trial, California State University’s Dr. Richard Drogin conducted a study on the wages of female employees at Wal-Mart. Among his key findings:

  • Women hourly workers earned up to 37 cents less per hour than their male counterparts.
  • Female managers earn nearly $5,000 less than male managers in yearly salary.
  • Women comprise 72 percent of Wal-Mart’s total workforce, but only 33 percent of its managers.
  • Women comprise 92 percent of Wal-Mart’s cashiers, but only 14 percent of Wal-Mart Store Managers.
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It’s a Man’s World at Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart infamously refused to sell T-shirts that bore the slogan “Someday a Woman Will be President!,” citing complaints that the mere idea was offensive.  Ann Moliver Ruben, the 70-year-old psychologist who designed the shirt, said Sharon Higginbotham, a buyer for women’s clothes at Wal-Mart’s national office in Bentonville, Ark., told her the store would not carry the shirt nationwide because the message “goes against Wal-Mart’s family values.” (Read more …)

Wal-Mart Forced to Stock “Plan B” contraception

For years, Wal-Mart refused to stock and sell the emergency contraceptive pills known as “Plan B.” Because Wal-Mart—with over 3,200 pharmacies in the US—is the only pharmacy in many communities, untold numbers of women were left with no access to this safe and legal birth control option.  Illinois and Massachusetts enacted laws that required the company to stock emergency contraceptives. In response to mounting pressure from public advocates, Wal-Mart agreed to stock the drug and fill prescriptions in the remaining 48 states. (Read more …)

Have a Family? Leave!

When it comes to the federal Family Medical Leave Act, Wal-Mart has a long history of noncompliance. While the Act requires employers to allow employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for themselves or a loved one without losing their jobs, there are countless cases of Wal-Marts failing to follow the law and reinstate employees. In one case in 2005, the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission fined Wal-Mart $188,000 for refusing to reinstate an employee of six years after she finished her maternity leave. (Read more …)

Second Rate Benefits for Women

Women who are pregnant or thinking about starting a family in the future should think twice about Wal-Mart.  Only one ultrasound is allowed per pregnancy, and mothers may be forced to pay an additional $1000 deductible for their newborn—on top of their own. Now Wal-Mart is now rolling out a Health Savings Account Plan with $6000 family deductibles that don’t even include preventative services like mammograms and pap smears. (Read more …)

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