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Walmart sign on store.
Walmart is so big and powerful that it exerts a powerful downward force on wages and working conditions not just in retail but throughout its supply chain of warehouses, manufacturers, and other producers, with other large chains always trying to keep up in the race to the bottom. Unions haven't been able to crack it, and almost certainly won't be able to without some other force restraining Walmart's ability to exploit and abuse workers. Workers, often supported by but not members of unions, are actively bringing complaints about violations of workplace safety, wage, and other laws to the government agencies responsible for policing employers. And the government is finding a lot of merit in those complaints. In fact, if you look at the patterns, it's pretty clear that lawbreaking is one of Walmart's foremost strategies for lowering costs and increasing profits.

For instance, Walmart suspended Louisiana's C.J.'s Seafood last month after some terrible publicity. Undocumented immigrant workers claimed they'd been forced to work shifts up to 24 hours long, among other abuses. This week, the Department of Labor hit C.J.'s with hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and back pay.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration found 12 violations, 11 of them serious, including a blocked exit, lack of fire extinguishers, and temporary wiring. Those violations carry more than $34,000 in fines (though fines usually get knocked way down before they're actually paid). Meanwhile, the Wage and Hour Division of the Labor Department found minimum wage, overtime, and record-keeping violations, as well as violations of the H-2B visa program: C.J.'s didn't pay overtime rates for workers working more than 40 hours a week, illegally deducted from worker pay for necessary equipment like gloves and aprons, didn't keep records of time worked, and "violated H-2B provisions by misrepresenting its temporary need for foreign workers, including the dates of need and number of workers needed, and also by failing to pay the required wage rate."

"This employer took illegal advantage of the H-2B program, which put it in a position to undercut its competition that plays by the rules," said Nancy Leppink, deputy administrator of the Wage and Hour Division. "American workers seeking jobs should not be compelled to accept substandard wages and working conditions due to employers' abuse of temporary foreign worker visa programs."

A total of $76,608 is due to the 73 workers, and the company is liable for an additional $70,014 in liquidated damages. The division also has assessed $32,120 in civil money penalties under the FLSA for willful violations of the employer's obligation to pay overtime and $35,000 in civil money penalties for willful violations of the H-2B program.

C.J.'s is saying it won't pay all of the back wages it owes, or the liquidated damages or civil money penalties, so the government is going to have to go after that. If you're tempted here to think "this is just one Walmart supplier and Walmart has suspended it," bear in mind that such abuses are common in Walmart's supply chain. Recently, to take another example, workers filed safety complaints against a warehouse that, while run by a contractor, handles goods exclusively for Walmart. There:
The impact of the immense pressure on Walmart suppliers can easily be seen at what workers call simply "the Crossdock". Workers say they are given brutal quotas for the number of boxes that they need to shift each hour. Supervisors, they say, make it clear that any failure to meet those quotas – even at the risk of physical injury – could be the loss of a job. "I feel that I am just something they could use and throw away," said Limber Herrera, 29, pictured, who is supporting a wife and two children on his wage.
While the complaints against that warehouse are under investigation, other Walmart-contracted warehouses, including ones run by the same company that runs this warehouse, have been hit with dozens of safety violations and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.

Many of the worst abuses are at Walmart contractors and suppliers, where the retail giant exercises significant control, but can (try to) deny knowledge of and responsibility for what goes on, claiming the violations come from contractors and staffing agencies, not Walmart itself. That's an awfully weak claim, given how widespread the safety and wage violations are in Walmart's supply chain and the fact that the downward pressure on prices and the overall control Walmart exerts on its suppliers is widely reported. It's especially weak in the case of warehouses and other suppliers that work exclusively or overwhelmingly for Walmart.

But Walmart itself engages in such behavior. Just a few months ago, Walmart agreed to pay $4.8 million in back wages for overtime violations. The company had been treating vision center managers and asset protection coordinators as employees exempt from overtime pay requirements, but in fact they were not exempt and deserved overtime pay. That's $4.8 million settlement is dwarfed by at least three other cases in recent years involving Walmart's failure to pay overtime workers had earned. Then there are the gender discrimination claims filed by nearly 2,000 women in 48 states. Recently, workers who have been organizing at Walmart, not to unionize but just to have some of their concerns addressed, alleged they have been fired in retaliation for their activism.

Walmart isn't going away anytime soon, and neither is the damage it does to workers, communities, taxpayers, and the economy. But given how much the company relies on actively breaking the law to keep costs low and workers downtrodden, using the law, and government oversight agencies, to rein in and punish some of the worst violations is an important part of slowing the race to the bottom and making a strong statement that breaking the law is not an acceptable path to profit. And this is another area where elections matter a great deal: Would a Mitt Romney Department of Labor have taken such strong action against C.J.'s Seafood?

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 05:25 PM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I will never shop there, and did not talk (7+ / 0-)

    to a friend of mine for a year when i found out she went there one time.

    Tired of hearing crazy voices? turn off FOX News. Single Payer: healthcare for all of God's living creatures in America.

    by ca democrat on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 05:35:02 PM PDT

  •  As was the case with the Rockerfellers (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MartyM, howabout, slowbutsure, raster44, tikkun

    and Standard Oil any significant change in any direction with Walmart won't happen until a Walton is no longer "Calling the shots"

    Not blaming Bush for the mess we're in, is like not blaming a train engineer for a fatal train wreck because he's no longer driving the train.

    by JML9999 on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 05:35:08 PM PDT

  •  Walmart should be forced to pay a living wage (18+ / 0-)

    which includes health insurance, or else they should be forced to reimburse the taxpayers for every dime of Medicaid spent on people who had so-called jobs and yet still qualified as poor because we the people allowed them to be underpaid. I don't begrudge medicaid to anybody- in fact I think that this would be a much better country if we had HealthCare for Everyone and HealthInsurance for none. Let me spend half as much as I was paying for Health insurance directly into the national healthcare fund and cut the middleman completely out of the picture.

    Don't let Walmart get away with making the taxpayer pay half of their employees wages by subsidizing their healthcare!

    Revoke their Charter otherwise.

  •  Darn! (6+ / 0-)
    Walmart isn't going away anytime soon
    Maybe eventually though by chipping away at their suppliers.

    Thanks for a great diary!

    Tracy B Ann - technically that is my signature.

    by ZenTrainer on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 05:37:29 PM PDT

  •  In 21st Century America (13+ / 0-)

    the "Rule  of Law" is always for everybody else, and should be imposed with the strictest harshness--on everybody else.  This attitude is pretty much universal.  The 1% is able to live that way, and it is accepted and justified by one and all, because they all want the same for themselves.

    Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?

    by ActivistGuy on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 05:37:34 PM PDT

  •  Unfortunately, some people have no choice (12+ / 0-)

    unless they want to drive dozens of miles to get food. But, the diary does make the point that shopping there isn't cheap when looking at the big picture. Thanks for the diary.

  •  What is the H-2B program? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    slowbutsure, raster44, Dirtandiron

    I thought it was for foreigners, legal immigrants....

    "Tax cuts for the 1% create jobs." -- Republicans, HAHAHA - in China

    by MartyM on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 05:38:36 PM PDT

  •  If the watchers don't stop them (11+ / 0-)

    People will break the rules. That's human nature. It's why the conservative approach to regulation doesn't work. They think the market will take care of everything. The market rewards companies that cheat their workers. Only strong regulation and enforcement can keep the rogues in line, and make sure that honest businesspeople (who are the majority of businesspeople) can compete.

  •  Warehouse workers for companies like Amazon (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fuzzyguy, raster44, Dirtandiron, brae70

    (often subcontracted) are pretty horrendous also.  This needs to stop!

    ...Son, those Elephants always look out for themselves. If you happen to get a crumb or two from their policies, it's a complete coincidence. -Malharden's Dad

    by slowbutsure on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 05:42:29 PM PDT

  •  Size Matters (5+ / 0-)

    And Walmart is too damn big to be trusted. We try to build checks and balances into government - so how come we let corporations run loose?

    We'd be in a lot better shape today and we wouldn't have so much inequality if we hadn't stopped worrying about enforcing anti-trust laws.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 05:43:17 PM PDT

  •  Huh? (3+ / 0-)
    Undocumented immigrant workers claimed they'd been forced to work shifts up to 24 hours long, among other abuses. This week, the Department of Labor hit C.J.'s with hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and back pay.
    Maybe I'm not reading or understanding this correctly or something.  But, um, undocumented immigrant workers (in other words, illigeal immigrants) are being supported by the Department of Labor and are getting back pay and there are fines against a U.S. company for not paying them correctly?

    Huh?  I don't EVEN have to make any comment about how ludicrous that is if I'm reading/understanding it right.

    The truth is sometimes very inconvenient.

    by commonsensically on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 05:43:19 PM PDT

    •  Isn't a bit draconian (13+ / 0-)

      and republican to argue

      But, um, undocumented immigrant workers (in other words, illigeal immigrants) are being supported by the Department of Labor and are getting back pay and there are fines against a U.S. company for not paying them correctly?
      The immigrant workers worked the hours and were supposed to be on worker visas. If they worked the hours they deserve their pay no matter how the visas pan out. Punish the company for abusing the visa program, don't steal people's earned wages because of a company's failure to adhere to worker visa laws.

      There is no justice in that.

      •  Republican? (3+ / 0-)

        Fuzzyguy...ALL democrats aren't the same.  A great many democrats are moderate and could even be seen as "right-leaning" when it comes to illegal immigration (notice I didn't use the favorite phrase used here like "undocumented").  So, no, there's no "republican" in my remark.  It's from a democrat that believes that we must control our illegal immigration much sooner than later.

        And, we don't know if those workers the diary spoke about had work visas.  It did say undocumented immigrant workers and it's pretty easy to figure out that if they had work visas, they'd be "documented".  

        No, we don't need to condone or sanction companies not paying wages that are earned.  And, we also don't need a government that condones illegal immigrants working in our country without legitimate work visas.  "Illegal" is "illegal".  Ignoring the law doesn't make it right.

        The truth is sometimes very inconvenient.

        by commonsensically on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 05:56:55 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Living in TX, (10+ / 0-)

          I have seen enough spanish speaking folks taken advantage of using similar tactics. The spanish speaking person thinks they are here legally on a visa, the employer didn't really get them the visa, worker demands back wages, employer threatens deportation by calling in INS, worker concedes to work for lower wages out of hope to get something for hours worked so far having already been put at a disadvantage.

          Punish the companies that do the illegal hiring. If a person worked x amount of hours they deserve payment for them no matter their immigration status.

        •  Here's why ... (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          fuzzyguy, raster44, deweyrose, Miggles

          we shouldn't be using "illegal alien". It's a civil liberties issue:

          It's contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment, which affirms that neither the federal government nor state governments may "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." An undocumented immigrant has violated immigration requirements, but is still a legal person under the law, as is anyone under the jurisdiction of the law. The equal protection clause was written to prevent state governments from defining any human being as anything less than a legal person.

          "Let us not look back to the past with anger, nor towards the future with fear, but look around with awareness." James Thurber

          by annan on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 06:15:54 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  By Allowing Corporations To Get Away With (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          fuzzyguy

          hiring undocumented workers without paying them required wages, we cut the ground from under American workers.  Is that what you you support?  

          Newt 2012. Sociopath, adulterer, hypocrite, Republican.

          by tikkun on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 07:26:34 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Actually, that's pretty offensive that you go out (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          fuzzyguy

          of your way to say illegal instead of undocumented.  Way to go,  using dehumanizing terms!  :(

    •  If they did the work, then they deserve the pay. (4+ / 0-)

      They have no rights?  According to your logic, if someone commits a crime against an undocumented immigrant, the perpetrator can't be convicted or go to jail or pay a fine / restitution???  This is what drives me crazy about the bigots.  They consider being an undocumented immigrant the most heinous crime possible.

  •  Action against Walmart and Goldman Sachs (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    skyounkin, raster44, tikkun, Dirtandiron

    will not happen because crooked politicians, often of both Parties ( to be frank) ,  are in both of their pockets,   and they want re-elected first,  much more than serving the general populace of the USA.

    This video that was just sent to me is worth a watch even though it is an advertising trailer for HBO.

    http://www.youtube.com/...

    Victims of bigotry are the poorest, least influential members of society.......never the wealthiest, most educated, most overrepresented in high levels, and most influential. Bigotry hurts the least influential. To claim or say otherwise is absurd.

    by dailykozzer on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 05:47:37 PM PDT

  •  Many of you know of a chain of stores (6+ / 0-)

    based in Michigan, Meijer's. It is comparable to Walmart.

    For many years people, my family, unions and others, have been boycotting Walmart and going to Meijer's.

    My brother-in-law was a cashier at Meijer's 30 years ago and made $10 an hour. My nephew, his stepson, works there now and makes minimum wage!

    They have to compete with Walmart, so now they are just as ugly.

  •  Can WalMart be broken up? Like MaBell in the 80s? (5+ / 0-)

    Seriously, this company is dangerous, not just to it's workers but the atmosphere it promotes.

    And seriously- time to start hitting these companies with fines that will mean something to them.

    "I'm not scared of anyone or anything, Angie. Isn't that the way life should be?" Jack Hawksmoor

    by skyounkin on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 05:56:43 PM PDT

  •  Not to mention ... (3+ / 0-)

    the serious hoops manufacturers and their marketing agencies have to go through to even get their products on the shelves there. Walmart pretty much dictates the terms ... and whoever is willing to bow down the lowest to the almighty Walmart committee will get the biz.

  •  Walmart and the Labor Situation (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    raster44, tikkun, notrouble, Dirtandiron

    The gross labor violations on Walmart's behalf is not some sort of strange aberration. When it comes to corporate approach towards the working people in the United States there is definitely a desire to turn American labor into cheap sweat shop type labor. The  mantra of corporations is profit over the people and the labor violations are what happens when Unions are not given the support nor the authority to punch back against these Captain's of Industry and their failed  Corporate Ethics  

    More on Corporate crime here

    We the people need to stand with our fellow Americans and stop demonizing Unions as they are the only hope that the worker has to fight back and against Corporate excess.

    -Alberto Pupo The Blog Of Progress http://theblogofprogress.com/

    by Alberto Pupo on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 06:11:21 PM PDT

    •  labor violations.. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tikkun, Dirtandiron

      Some call centers have rules like you are only allowed 10 minutes a month to use the rest room. They say if you need more time use your 10 minute break times of lunch periods to go to the bathroom.

    •  The Truth about Global Competition (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tikkun, Dirtandiron

      When conservatives talk about globalization and how "we have to compete on global labor markets" they're talking about the 99%.

      The 1%? They're compteting with the guys at the club to see who can bank the most millions.

      Workers of the World, Unite!

      In a world of the blind, the one eyed man is a pariah. Ask Galileo. Ask Darwin.

      by OKParrothead on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 07:07:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •   a general strike is the only thing that's going (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    raster44, tikkun, Patango, notrouble

    to fix this.

    good luck getting that to happen.

     if everybody working for wal-mart stopped working tomorrow, they would have no problem replacing them.

    this is the purpose of a sh*tty economy.

    and really things are this bad, and the unions can't get the workers organized ?  then what good are the unions ?

    do we need a new union movement that advocates for all workers and not just the workers that are already unionized ?

    big badda boom : GRB 080913

    by squarewheel on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 06:16:09 PM PDT

    •  That IS what HAS 2 happen (0+ / 0-)

      Now we must organize and do it , imo the UNIONS, for the most part , only have their own wages and jobs in mind when it comes to organizing such a movment  , so forget looking to them at all , until people stand up , expect worse

      TIME 2 FIGHT BACK!!!!!!!

  •  Wal-Mart won't even feel those measly fines. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tikkun, Patango, Dirtandiron, fuzzyguy

    The costs of the damages (plus fines equaling about the same) will never be enough punishment for giants like Wal-Mart (and their highly-probable ghost contractors). The price of damages must be enough for the giants to actually feel it.
    Serious punitive damages, far beyond the cost of actual damages, must be imposed, otherwise huge companies like Wal-Mart (through their contractors) can just pay those measly fines (on what few occasions they get caught) and continue on business-as-usual.

  •  i refuse to (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Miggles, Wildthumb, Dirtandiron

    shop at walmart, as much for the way they treat their workers as for putting small mom and pop shops out of business, you really have to wonder how much wealth do you need when your greed keeps your employees from earning a living wage and letting their families live everyone's american dream.

    the gop always asks why do some hate the rich, i would ask why do the wealthy disrespect and hate the poor, and to them all jane and joe are poor.

  •  Abuses (5+ / 0-)

    Not to mention that Wal-mart will try to make an employee quit if they make too much money-usually around $12.00/hr-or are seen as  a threat, i.e, well respected by peers, possibly union agiator, or violate some sort of Wal-mart Code that the employee didn't know about. For example, a union sympathizer but not organizer in a neighboring store just got fired for having to many tardies. What was actually happened was an assistant manager heard him mention the "U"(union) word, and would change his schedule every day so the worker had no idea when to come in and was continally late and or absent due to the constantly changing schedule. Wal-mart successfully beat his unemployment claim too.

    I am on the target list because I had the audacity to say to a customer yesterday, "ma'am, I realize that the cashier made a mistake, but you really can't throw things at her and make her cry". I wasn't even on the clock or in uniform but because this "regular customer" recognized me as a worker at wal-mart, called a manager and complained. I received a coaching,  and now am on some sort of "Watch List".  Today, I checked my schedule on the work time clock because that's where the changes show up, as opposed to the employee website, which is known to be inaccurate, or not updated if a manager decides to mess with the schedule. Sure enough, I was only scheduled from 4:00 pm to 8:30 pm tomorrow on the website, but since I checked the timeclock scheduled "discovered" that my hours are actually from 2:00 pm-11:00 pm.  

    Wal-mart has an "open door" policy, one where I can talk to a manager or contact an HR person at corporate, or even call their ethics hotline, it does no good. We call the "open door" policy an open door to unemployment.

    Everytime I walk by our computers and see someone filling out an application I want to scream, "DON"T WORK HERE!"

  •  It seems to me that the problem is mostly (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dirtandiron

    with people who believe that "low price" is the ONLY thing that matters.

    Walmart's customers refuse to hear, refuse to accept that the low prices of the products they purchase result from the mistreatment, humiliation, and poverty of hundreds of thousands of their fellow Americans and millions more of their fellow human beings.

    ALL that matters to them is that they can get whatever toy the last advertisement they saw convinced them they absolutely cannot live without, for the lowest possible price.

    I believe that the only way Walmart customers are able to continue to see themselves as decent, moral human beings, is to not allow themselves to know and understand that it is only the ongoing misery and poverty of hundreds of thousands and probably millions of their fellow human beings that makes those "bargains" possible; that IF only they would give up the pursuit of the lowest possible price and decide to buy only from companies that they know for a fact, treat employees as the buyers themselves would like to be treated.

    "For the love of money is the root of all evil..." and between the Walton's love of money and Walmart customers' love of money they are doing a whole lot of evil.

  •  Bad for workers, bad for me. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    notrouble, Dirtandiron

    It sucks to be a metaphor.

    I started with nothing and still have most of it left. - Seasick Steve

    by ruleoflaw on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 08:30:35 PM PDT

  •  I won't shop at Walmart no way, no how. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dirtandiron

    And can you imagine what we could achieve if all working people in all countries got together and refused to patronize entities that were bad for them?

    Hmmmm. Seems to me other people have gotten that idealized notion, too. Wish it could happen, devoutly!

    I was seeing what Adam had seen on the morning of his creation - the miracle, moment by moment, of naked existence. --The Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley

    by Wildthumb on Sun Jul 29, 2012 at 08:49:44 PM PDT

  •  I'm a dem supporter (0+ / 0-)

    But

    OP

    "Would a Mitt Romney Department of Labor have taken such strong action against C.J.'s Seafood?"

    I have yet to hear obama say we need to strengthen the labor dept , or pass laws the give workers their proper rights , but if we can get an ear from anyone , it would be him ... making it clear to our reps that we support these issues helps immensely , dem reps any way

    Spreading the word on stories like these can only help , workers are going to get sick of being treated like shit at some point , the elders must inform the young and stronger of how screwed they are , so the people with the strong backs can fight back , before they get to old and can not fight back at all  , I graduated high school in 1979 , when it all just started to go to crap , 30 years of screwing workers over has left the middle class in shambles , we must fight for and inform the young

  •  My take on this whole mess... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dirtandiron

    This "people power" (er ah, excuse me, corporate power) revolution.....From Aldus Shrugged:

    "...
    He ain’t heavy, he’s my corporation…

    The new corporate culture and the pro-business judicial environment allow big corporations to game every part of the system.  A great example is found in giant retailers contracting out millions of warehouse labor positions, instead of expanding their own real - W2 - workforce.  The money they save on employee benefits is substantial, and deserved.  This is Capitalism, after all.  But the Supreme Court has held that liability does not cross lines of corporate entities, and various stores among the same large corporation; let alone different companies altogether.  Those out-sourced contract workers are a great example of all of this.  They labor under the banner and logo of the prime contractor:  the big name retailer, always a huge household name we all know.  And it’s not as if that big name company is out of the picture.  The contract workers regularly get visits and pep talks directly from managers of the big name retailer, even though they work for XYZ Contracting Corp, or some unknown entity like that.  So, legally speaking, there is a lot of mixing of entities and crossing of lines going on.  Historically, this mixing and crossing of lines opens doors to all kinds of liability.  But the current Supreme Court won’t let that happen.  And of course, in the rush for profit maximization at any cost, the lowly contract employees get abused and overworked.  And these days, they can’t do anything about it…like back in 1910.   This means that most large companies can act with impunity and feel very secure.  And still, they complain and lobby for more protections; and as an extra sand-kick in the face, tort reform continues to be a disingenuous GOP talking point that will save the economy.  Relax, my corporate brother from another conglomerate:  Nobody seems to be piercing any corporate veils these days.  Plus, mom always liked you better...."

    Aldus Shrugged : The Antidote to Ayn Rand. @floydbluealdus1

    by Floyd Blue on Mon Jul 30, 2012 at 07:07:03 AM PDT

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