Wal-Mart Merry Christmas

Community Organizing International Labor Organizing

Wal-Mart Merry Christmas
            Antigua           Scrooge seems to have decided to give little Timmy a lump of coal for Christmas this year.  After multi-year, no-holds barred resistance; Wal-Mart announced they were settling more than 60 back wage and hours cases around the country for close to $400,000,000 on the bottom and perhaps more like $700M if everyone applies.   This comes on the back of other settlements in recent months that boost the total payback to workers to nearly a billion dollars.  The claims affect several hundred thousand workers in 42 states, but the payoff may be no more than a couple of hundred dollars to individual workers.
            Reports found the lawyers for the workers making statements that seemed almost too kind, and claiming that this cleans up Wal-Mart’s act before a new administration is in place.  Some of the workers’ attorneys aid that Wal-Mart doing “state-of-the-art” compliance with wage and hours requirements now.  The lawyers no doubt did a good job, but their generosity was paid for by tens of millions that will now be paid in legal fees compared to the workers pittance.
            As usual, this is good business for Wal-Mart, and if it weren’t good business for them, believe me, they wouldn’t be finally claiming they were willing to square up with their current and former workers.  They clear the decks of a lot of garbage before a new CEO, Dukes, replaces the out-going Lee Scott.  They might clean up their image a little as David Nassar with Wal-Mart Watch was quoted making them slightly harder as a union organizing target. 
            Wal-Mart still saved money by not paying correctly in the beginning to their workers, and now making the workers scramble for the wages years later.  These were class action law suits.  The range in the value of the settlement is based on how many workers step forward to claim their back pay.  Given the more than 100% turnover every year within Wal-Mart stores, many of these workers are long gone.  If anyone did the work, it would be a huge effort to contact all of the former employees who have a little check waiting for them.  There will undoubtedly be a mailing to all of these workers, but many will have moved on, especially in this economy, after they moved on from Wal-Mart.  The lawyers for the workers don’t get fully paid in class actions until the settlements are paid out, so the clock on showing up to get your money will not keep running indefinitely. 
Don’t get me wrong.  This is a huge victory for the workers, and hopefully it will teach Wal-Mart some lessons (though I’m skeptical when I read they are still claiming these are rouge managers rather than a corporate culture and a Bentonville-based computer system that was monitoring the payrolls and hours). 
            Nonetheless, “work now, and pay later,” seems to once again have benefitted Wal-Mart more than most of the workers.
            Hard to see this as any kind of Merry Christmas from Wal-Mart.