Monday, January 25, 2010

Wal-Mart fires 11,000, puts condition on severance pay

Wal-Mart's "Happy New Year!" to 11,000 of its workers this week was an announcement that they are all losing their jobs. The announcement came just two weeks after the company revealed plans to close 10 Sam's Club stores across the country (none in the South). The leopard doesn't change its spots, and Arkansas-based Wal-Mart is still Wal-Mart, which is to say something other than the bogus imagery of Mr. Sam, the Wal-Mart cheer, and the smiling, happy "associates" who, company PR insists, work there.

The real Wal-Mart is the miserly, union-busting,sweatshop-coddling mom-and-pop bankrupter that is telling those 11,000 "associates" they will get no severance pay unless they agree to waive any right to sue the company for discrimination, whether for age, race, or gender, according to today's Huffington Post. As a consolation prize, company officials have told these workers they can now apply for jobs at the company's new product sampling partner, Shopper Events (also Arkansas-based), which is hiring as many as 10,000 new workers. Hey, what do you think the chances are of a non-waiver-signing former "associate" landing a job with Shopper Events?

What is the subtext here? What sort of lawsuit is Wal-Mart worried about? I devoted a chapter to Wal-Mart in my book, Covering for the Bosses, and I learned a lot about this outfit. The company was hit with a class-action lawsuit in 2004 that claimed sex discrimination on behalf of 1.6 million former and current female employees. An internal audit that same year revealed thousands of labor violations, including the employment of minors during school hours and the working of employees through breaks and lunches.

Wal-Mart's founder, Sam Walton, once lamented the following: "I was so obsessed with turning in a profit margin of 6 percent or higher that I ignored some of the basic needs of our people, and I feel bad about it."

It's too late for Walton's crocodile tears. His successors aren't even shedding them.

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