There are many reasons to complain about Wal-Mart. Reasons like foreign product sourcing, their treatment of employees and product suppliers, environmental practices, use of public subsidies, and the impact of stores on the local economies of towns in which they operate. We all have our issues with the retail giant. Now with the aid of the United States Supreme Court, there is a new reason and this one hits close to home.
There are 13 Walmarts in Indiana's Sixth District averaging around 300 employees each. Wal-Mart's EEOC filings show that female employees made up 65% of Wal-Mart's hourly paid workforce, but only 33% of its management. That's 2,535 women or more in this Congressional District that may have just hit the glass ceiling...
Just 35% of Wal-Mart's store managers are women compared to 57% at comparable retailers. And the latest blow from the Supreme Court only gives this huge employer less reason to care. According to Peter S. Goodman at Huffington Post:
[W]hat the Supreme Court essentially decreed this week is that Walmart's employees -- or really any group of people who happen to work for a colossal corporation -- are not entitled to organize themselves similarly to enhance their power to pursue their own interests.
The court ruled that female workers may not be considered a class for the purposes of a lawsuit in which they accuse the company of years of gender discrimination, because they worked in many different stores in many different American communities, making their experiences effectively individual.
"Respondents wish to sue for millions of employment decisions at once," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the lead opinion for the court in the five votes to four decision supporting the giant retailer. "Without some glue holding together the alleged reasons for those decisions, it will be impossible to say that examination of all the class members' claims will produce a common answer to the crucial discrimination question."
As if to underscore the absurdity of this disparity, Scalia noted that Walmart has a written policy barring discrimination: The mere act of writing this down at headquarters somehow confers immunity against claims of a breach of that policy -- not that there's any glue providing coherence to the experience of workers as a class!
So as long as you have a written policy against sex discrimination; it's just too bad that it doesn't work. Trying a Million and a half cases in individual courts is prohibitively expensive and will take years. Most employees will just give up and maybe find a new job. The turnover rate at Wal-Mart is already near 50% and the wages are hardly enough to support a family. So they will continue to get women to work who need the little money that the job brings home. But, perhaps this case will be a signal for all Wal-Mart employees to work for something better. There is strength in numbers, But its not going to be easy. The Wall Street Journal states that:
Wal-Mart has opposed the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) and required store managers and department heads to attend meetings used to criticize Democratic candidates. Several labor-rights groups including the AFL-CIO have asked the Federal Election Commission to investigate whether Wal-Mart broke federal election rules by advocating against Democratic candidate Barack Obama in meetings with employees.
Wal-Mart stores are unionized in every country outside of North America but have effectively resisted all attempts in the United States. Even in the recession year of 2009, Wal-Mart still reported a net income of $13.6 billion. There are 1.2 Million store employees in the U.S. Perhaps there is a Norma Rae out there somewhere waiting to pull the whistle cord. Maybe right here in the Sixth District of Indiana.