We've been hearing a lot about Walmart and their activities involving worker wages in pursuit of controlling the retail markets in this country and about their membership in ALEC.
We've also learned that they and ALEC have also been involved in trying to weaken federal laws prohibiting acts of bribery of foreign officials while they actively tried to cover-up Walmart's bribery scandal in Mexico. Last week we learned Walmart hired key lobbyists with connections to or who formerly worked for/with Congressional members who are going to be investigating the Mexican bribery case.
I believe when an unfavorable or potentially public pattern of harm emerges, regardless of excuses or public denials, the culprit needs to be fully exposed publicly so consumers and voters alike can learn of the allegations and have the ability to determine the facts for themselves. This allows consumers to spend their hard earned money with retailers and businesses that are beneficial to their communities, lifestyle and employment. It also lets voters learn about those lawmakers working as enablers for companies exploiting them, letting them choose which politicians to vote for in local or national elections.
To this end, I wanted to present readers and VLTP members with a nasty side of Walmart - one that many have been totally unaware of as they continue to pressure Walmart to withdraw membership in, and support of, ALEC...use of prison labor in general and long term exploitation of female prison workers. Important to keep in mind as you read on, is that Walmart publicly announces that they will not tolerate prison or forced labor in the manufacturing of products sold in their stores through their "Standards For Suppliers" mandate:
"Forced/Prison Labor: Forced or prison labor will not be tolerated by Wal-Mart."
and in a 1997 public statement on use of prison or forced labor:
"Since 1992 Wal-Mart has required its supplier-partners to comply with a stringent code of conduct. This code requires factories producing merchandise for Wal-Mart to be automatically denied manufacturing certification if inspections reveal:
illegal child labor
inadequate fire safety equipment
locked or blocked fire exits
evidence of forced or prison labor or
evidence of transshipment of goods."
This represents the "public face" of Walmart - leading consumers to believe they are firmly against such exploitation, refusing to "profit" off of forced labor. Their "ALEC face" is entirely different, exposing their public persona as a mask of deceit.
Throughout their membership in ALEC Walmart has helped write and sponsor specific legislation that benefited their bottom line, regardless of the impact upon workers, consumers or voters. Walmart has tried to indicate that they hold a membership in ALEC because through ALEC they have a voice on issues important to their company. In addition they say they don't always support ALEC's agenda on social issues. Both assertions are not true. While denying US workers their desire to unionize, and helping ALEC develop their anti-Union model bills; ending collective bargaining and Right to Work - Walmart readily agreed to unionization of workers in their China outlets in 2006.
Indiana, Arizona and Wisconsin are clear examples of Walmart's involvement in helping ALEC fund and support their anti-worker (RTW) and opposition to national healthcare. They discussed and helped adopt voter ID suppression, and immigration detention then funneled campaign contributions to lawmakers who voted favorably to pass the model bills state by state.
A look at the campaign contributions of Walmart over the past decade and a half show the company heavily supported dozens of key ALEC members and alumni; Scott Walker ($15K in 2010), Scott Fitzgerald ($3k in 2004), Dan Kapanke ($1k in 2004) and Robin Vos ($1.5K in 2004) in WI., Mitch Daniels ($88k since 2004), David Wolkins ($3k in 2006), and Marlin Stutzman ($3k in 2006) in Indiana and Russell Pearce (SB 1070) in Arizona ($250 in 2006). All three states have been on the front lines in the ongoing conservative battles on privatizing education, prison privatization, RTW, ending collective bargaining, etc. This link will take you to a site tracking Walmart's campaign contributions since 1996. Take a brief look and see the hundreds of thousands of dollars funneled to ALEC's legislative members or affiliates who carried out ALEC's policy initiatives and passed terrible legislation nationwide.
This is called "enabling". Besides sitting on the task forces where ALEC model bills are crafted, tweaked and passed along to every state legislature - having a say and vote before one single citizen even knows a proposed law impacting them is on the way to their general assembly - Walmart contributes to the campaigns of those lawmakers supporting the ALEC legislation. Walmart then takes advantage of the laws benefiting their bottom line - laws they helped write and paid good money to see passed. Wisconsin has tracked Walmart for years on labor issues in WI., the US and their foreign subsidiaries.
That is the game they chose to play - and ALEC the team they played for. What some are not aware of is that ALEC wrote important legislation in the mid-1990's that Walmart also took advantage of. This legislation is titled the Prison Industries Act. Under this legislation (already adopted in more than 30 states nationwide) private companies can have access to prisoners as a labor or workforce (under this model bill, agricultural products and services are exempt from wage requirements).
Paid minimum wage or less, many companies make thousands of products for us as consumers; flooring, produce, processed food products, furniture, office systems, clothing, after market auto parts...the list is endless. It serves as a great way for American corporations to proudly attach labels declaring "Made in USA". Walmart has tried to hide their use of prison labor for more than two decades by using sub-contractors and cut-outs, while claiming they will not do business with any supplier who uses such labor.
Since 1991 Walmart has been buying produce from a huge farm corporation out of Arizona - Martori Farms. According to Hoover's profile of the company, Martori is "a fruit and vegetable grower, packer, shipper, and wholesaler and is the largest commercial agricultural company in Arizona. In 2007 Walmart celebrated their partnership with Martori in an article put out by Walmart Corporate, "16-Year Relationship Between Wal-Mart and Arizona Business Grows, Thrives" where Walmart claimed;
“Our relationship with Martori Farms is an excellent example of the kind of collaboration we strive for with our suppliers,” said Ron McCormick, Wal-Mart Stores vice president for produce. “Wal-Mart buys more United States agricultural products than any other retailer in the world and we’re proud to salute American farmers like Martori Farms. We understand that consumers want to purchase quality products that help support the local economy and we’re proud of our ability to bring wholesome, home-grown selections to our Arizona customers. This commitment not only allows us to offer fresh, quality selections but also to grow the local economy.”
Last year Walmart's "relationship with Martori Farms" was exposed by Journalist Al Norman in an article for Huff Post: "I Ain't Gonna Work On Martori's Farm No More
"The agra business was "hand-picked" by Wal-Mart, and in 2007, the giant retailer showcased Martori Farms as part of its "Salute To America's Farmers" program. The Martori farm operations took seed in the 1930s Arizona soil, later specializing in melons and broccoli. The company today has 3 major locations in Arizona, and one site in California. One of its holdings contains more than 15,000 arcres of farmland.
"Wal-Mart has described its relationship with Martori Farms as an example of "fruitful collaboration." The retailer's first 35 superstores were stocked with organic cantaloupes from Martori Farms. "Our relationship with Martori Farms is an excellent example of the kind of collaboration we strive for with our suppliers," a Wal-Mart spokesman said four years ago. "Wal-Mart buys more United States agricultural products than any other retailer in the world and we're proud to salute American farmers like Martori Farms...
"...For at least the last four years, the state of Arizona has fined employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers." (Sen. Russell Pearce (R AZ) has pushed this since 2006 when he first began receiving Walmart campaign contributions).
The Huffington Post article by Mr. Norman clearly documents Martori Farms as a key supplier of much of Walmart's produce acquisitions and informs that Martori has been using women prisoners from Arizona's state prisons as farm workers - for the past 20 years!
"Martori Farms "pays its imprisoned laborers two dollars per hour, not including the travel time to and from the farm." Women from the Arizona state prison complex at Perryville Unit are assigned to work at Martori Farms." Arizona law requires that all able bodied inmates work.These women are "forced" to labor long hours in the blazing sun sometimes without sunscreen, water or adequate food. Refusal to work earns them "disciplinary" tickets that takes their gain time, lengthening sentences."
I substantiated this claim through an earlier disturbing story published June 24, 2011 by Truth-Out.org
, Martori Farms "pays its imprisoned laborers two dollars per hour, not including the travel time to and from the farm." Women from the Arizona state prison complex at Perryville Unit are assigned to work at Martori Farms." Conditions? From the Truth-Out story:
"The ADC has sent its prisoners to work for private agricultural businesses for almost 20 years.(2) The farm pays its imprisoned laborers two dollars per hour, not including the travel time to and from the farm. Women on the Perryville Unit are assigned to Martori Farms, an Arizona farm corporation that supplies fresh fruits and vegetables to vendors across the United States (Martori is the exclusive supplier to Wal-Mart's 2,470 Supercenter and Neighborhood Market stores).(3)"
According to one woman who worked on the farm crews:
"They wake us up between 2:30 and three AM and KICK US OUT of our housing unit by 3:30AM. We get fed at four AM. Our work supervisors show up between 5AM and 8AM. Then it's an hour to a one and a half hour drive to the job site. Then we work eight hours regardless of conditions .... We work in the fields hoeing weeds and thinning plants ... Currently we are forced to work in the blazing sun for eight hours. We run out of water several times a day. We ran out of sunscreen several times a week. They don't check medical backgrounds or ages before they pull women for these jobs. Many of us cannot do it! If we stop working and sit on the bus or even just take an unauthorized break we get a MAJOR ticket which takes away our "good time"!!!
"We are told we get "two" 15 min breaks and a half hour lunch like a normal job but it's more like 10 minutes and 20 minutes. They constantly yell at us we are too slow and to speed up because we are costing $150 an acre in labor and that's not acceptable.
"The place is infested with spiders of all types, scorpions, snakes and blood suckers. And bees because they harvest them. On my crew alone, there are four women with bee allergies, but they don't care!! There are NO epinephrine pens on site to SAVE them if stung.
"There's no anti venom available for snake bites and they want us to use Windex (yes glass cleaner) for scorpion stings...
"...When "N" complained of chest pains, the farm representative refused to allow her to stop working. The next day, an hour after returning to work, she began experiencing chest pains. The farm representative told her, "Come on, the big bosses are here. You'll be in trouble if you stop. It's not break time. Work, work, work." "N" complied, working while in pain, until the break. She resumed working for another half hour before she experienced even more severe pains: "I have a steady deep dull pain with sharp stabbing pains periodically ... Then all of a sudden, I can't even lift the hoe in the air. My arms are no longer strong enough. By now, the chest pains are so bad it's knocking the wind out of me. I'm straight seeing stars. I tell our substitute boss officer Sanders I can't do it no more. I'm having really bad chest pains. I can't even lift the hoe anymore." The man accused her of faking these pains, but allowed her to stop working. While the woman was receiving medical attention, another farm representative stated, "Oh, so now they're gonna start faking fucking heart attacks to not work. Great.
"N" was sent to West Valley Hospital where an emergency room doctor ordered that she be exempt from the farm work crew and any other physical exertion for three to four days. However, when "N" was returned to the prison, the nurse told her that they could not honor the doctor's order and ordered her back to work."
This policy, the conditions and involvement of Walmart in this kind of slave labor operation - to fatten the corporate bottom line - is reprehensible, despicable and in my mind, criminal. Criminal in that Walmart helped write the laws allowing this kind of exploitation, helped write the laws to prosecute immigrant workers and confine them (for profit by another ALEC member company) and make the use of even cheaper labor, possible. They helped ALEC pass legislation now being used in all those states mentioned previously that are turning to prisoners to solve labor shortages stemming from the RTW and immigration laws. What they've done is to create a new form of legalized slavery in the U.S. and not just for Walmart and other ALEC member companies. In several states prisoners are being used more and more to replace workers; Georgia, prisoners to work farmer's fields
, same in Alabama
, potatoes in ID
. (SunGlo of Idaho Inc., Walters Produce Inc., High Country Potato Inc., and Floyd Wilcox & Sons Inc.), crops in Colorado
(Pisciotta Land & Cattle Inc) and Apples in WA. State
(McDougall & Sons).
Also in AZ. Lbj Farms uses male inmates to harvest watermelons and perform other farm chores - including incarcerated immigrants who came here to find "work". Again, inmates working for Lbj are paid $2.00 per hour.
This is so shocking - that U.S. farmers and Walmart would take advantage of prisoners - especially women - and do it in such a clearly abusive manner by forcing the prisoners to work under terrible conditions. Bad enough that they did it, but then hid behind a facade of respectability to keep consumers in the dark and buying in blissful ignorance of where that tomato, watermelon, greens, beans or other produce originated when they put it in their carts.
Worse yet, both of the "Farms" in Arizona using inmate labor, paying prisoners $2.00 per hour are recipients of federal subsidies! The USDA directly attributed $7,136,972 in subsidy payments to Martori Family Gen Partnershipin Program Years 1995-2010. Dixon Farms Partnership Dba Lbj Farms, received $558,543 for program years 2003-2005. In Colorado, Pisciotta Land & Cattle Inc. received $710,805 in USDA subsidies between 1995 and 2010. In WA. Mcdougall And Sons Inc received payments totaling $150,102 from 1995 through 2010. ALEC adopted and has passed out their "Right To Farm Act" that benefits and protects these large farm operations.
As early as 1996, ALEC began pushing factory farms through its model “Right to Farm” legislation that was soon cropping up in state capitols across the country. This work helped set the precedent for preemption, where state laws such as Wisconsin’s own Livestock Siting Legislation can trump any township or county regulations, eroding local democracy and basically forcing communities to accept factory farms whether they like them or not.
Prisoners, taxpayers, smaller farms and ranches, consumers are all impacted by the legislation and actions of Walmart, ALEC and their other members.
In 2005 Walmart was also already taking advantage of a different kind of prison labor - using prisoners in place of private sector workers in Wisconsin as they built a huge distribution center in Beaver Dam. They got away with this for a short period of time until citizens living in the area, labor groups and locally unemployed learned of this and began to complain. When the media attempted to interview the Walmart project manager, they were told by him that Walmart had issued an order, forbidding him from speaking to the media on the subject - yet they continued to allow the prisoners to work.
Last year when one of Walmart's favorite "sons", Gov. Scott Walker proudly signed anti-worker Right-To-Work (for less) legislation into law, public sector workers were immediately replaced with prisoners in Racine. With or without the right-to-work-for-less legislation in place, many states have begun replacing public and private workers with prisoners; Georgia, Alabama, Washington state and Arizona.
This is the "pattern" I referenced previously; one exploitation by manipulating laws, paying lawmakers to pass those laws, crushing unions and organized labor, creating a huge captive workforce without a voice, representation or public support. Pass laws to oppress voters who you suspect would oppose your agenda, slip in some bribery of foreign authorities to expand your markets and voila, a newly crafted pro-corporate environment where jobs are lost, wages lowered and profits soar. There is little doubt that this entire agenda is deliberate, well thought out and has been unbelievably successful. Look around at your unemployed neighbors, friends or family members now living with you because they have no home or job, boarded up store fronts, roads and infrastructure in disrepair, the high cost of produce at Walmart - and you see the results of ALEC/Walmart's "New Traditionalist Movement" envisioned by ALEC founder, Paul Weyrich.
This is the new Labor policy in America, brought to us by Walmart, ALEC, 2,000 state lawmakers and 500 other U.S. Corporations. They want to; lock 'em up, use them for cheap or free labor to displace American public and private sector workers so they can rid themselves of Unions and any form of organized labor. Their new pursuit? Do the same thing to our public and higher education. Teachers are already on the front lines and facing lost wages, tenure and replacement by private "instructors" through Charter Schools, vouchers and online "schools"...with locked and loaded ALEC member corporate members standing in the wings to march out and take over educating our children with ALEC's brand of science, economics and "free market, individual liberty" and "small government...