Walmart Goes Third-World on USA Warehouse Workers

Walmart garments found at the scene of a fire that killed at least 112 workers at a Bangladesh factory

 New Orleans       Walmart has learned so little from the pathetic dissembling they have mastered in trying to push off any responsibility for the hundreds of fiery deaths in their subcontracted sweatshops in Bangladesh and elsewhere that they are now going to use the same tactics to respond to complaints in the United States.  Their strategy is to blame it on the subcontractors and the outside monitors, no matter how much evidence was turned up to the contrary.

Their time of troubles in the fall started in their huge distribution center warehouses in Illinois and elsewhere.  In Elgin, they pushed their subcontract warehouse operator to reinstate workers who had clearly been illegally fired for concerted activity.  As other warehouse workers complained, particularly in California, where they first have to breakdown so much of what they are sourcing from China, one subcontractor after another is now handling millions of square feet of warehouse space for Walmart and to add more mess to their mayhem, many of the workers at these subcontracted warehouses come from temporary staffing agencies.  Several years ago while we were organizing Walmart workers in Florida, we spent the better part of a day in productive and fascinating meetings with organizing staff for Warehouse Workers United in its office perched in the middle of the miles of warehouses in Riverside and other outside-Los Angeles counties.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Walmart has now announced that it has the perfect solution for its USA warehouse worker problem.  By god they are going to do unannounced monitoring and inspections to check on the conditions at their subcontracted facilities.  Wow, just like they do in Asia!

What a model:  blame the subcontractor and fire them at will along with the temporary staffing agency that is putting the bodies in the space as pickers and lift truck drivers!

Sure, you can unionize temporary workers under the NLRA, but as surely, they can be replaced more quickly than machine parts.  If you ever need to wonder what is wrong with labor law and the sorry organizing hand that union organizers are now dealt, everything Walmart does and says is a case study.

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Walmart Watch: Occupy Reunion, Bangladesh Fire, and Spreading Retail Chaos

after the fire at Bangladesh factory

New Orleans   The protests of Black Friday may be over but that’s about all that’s over on either Black Friday or the woeful Walmart watch.

Occupy’s Role in Protests

One interesting side note of the protests is the critical, though largely unrecognized, role of the remnants of last year’s Occupy Wall Street movement and its widespread activist base around the country.  Looking at stories about the OUR Walmart protests around the country it was interesting and ironic that in place after place, picture after picture, that many of the protests seemed more of an Occupy reunion than a labor-based or union led event.  Certainly, the efforts I shared from Baton Rouge and Tupelo, Mississippi were 100% Occupy actions, regardless of the pale green OUR Walmart t-shirts they were provided by the campaign, and the local reporters, long familiar with the Occupy activists made that point clearly.  A number of the wire photos from the AP and even the centerpiece California action featured signs identifying protestors as Occupy adherents.  Maybe the internet initiated Black Friday protests were a fall offensive in the Occupy reunion tour?

Walmart Bangladesh Supplier Responsible in “Horrific” Fatal Fire for 120 Workers

            Though this was unmentioned in the wire story or the Wall Street Journal story on the terrible textile plant fire in Bangladesh, thanks are due for the excellent reporting by Vikas Jajaj from the Times for categorically nailing the Walmart connection to the fire right down to the Faded Glory Walmart jeans and clothing brand in the debris and ashes in the fire’s remains.  Jajau cites work on the scene by the International Labor Rights Forum as corroboration for this information, but also found clear evidence on the supplier’s own website.

A document posted on Tazreen Fashions’ Web site indicated that an “ethical sourcing” official for Walmart had flagged “violations and/or conditions which were deemed to be high risk” at the factory in May 2011, though it did not specify the nature of the infractions. The notice said that the factory had been given an “orange” grade and that any factories given three such assessments in two years from their last audit would not receive any Walmart orders for a year.

A spokesman for Walmart, Kevin Gardner, said the company was “so far unable to confirm that Tazreen is a supplier to Walmart nor if the document referenced in the article is in fact from Walmart.”

I’m sure it would have crossed the line from reporting to editorializing for Jajau to simply call Walmart and its spokesperson, Kevin Gardner, a liar, but clearly there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it, he was lying like a rug!

There is blood on the hands of Walmart and other big name companies like Gap and Tommy Hilfiger.

Activists say that global clothing brands like Tommy Hilfiger and the Gap and those sold by Walmart need to take responsibility for the working conditions in Bangladeshi factories that produce their clothes.  “These brands have known for years that many of the factories they choose to work with are death traps,” Ineke Zeldenrust, the international coordinator for the Clean Clothes Campaign, said in a statement. “Their failure to take action amounts to criminal negligence.”

Criminal negligence almost seems too legalistic for allowing these conditions to exist, especially when your own inspectors have already identified the risks, and you stand by waiting for disaster to strike, as it has now so tragically.

Endless Black Friday Push

Some folks chafed at Black Friday morphing into Thanksgiving Day, but the last paragraph in a Times article reminds us that it’s all about the buck and that’s the real tradition driving these holidays.

“…Thanksgiving falls when it does in part because of the efforts of the retailer Fred R. Lazarus Jr., head of Federated Department Stores. He lobbied President Franklin D. Roosevelt to move Thanksgiving up a week — and thus extend the holiday shopping season.”

This might be a faceoff  between two giants, the NFL and the Walmarts of the world, but it’s all about the money, honey!

 

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