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Wal-Mart

01/30/06 12:00AM By Ellen David Friedman
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(HOST)WalMart is once again proposing to expand services in Vermont, and today we have Two Views of the impact WalMart's policies have on the public. This morning we hear from commentator Ellen David Friedman.

(FRIEDMAN) If Wal-Mart expands in Vermont - as it clearly intends to do - some will say this is a great thing: New jobs and low cost goods. But not me. I know too much about Wal-Mart to want them to have more influence in my state. Here's why:

Wal-Mart doesn't pay employees for all the hours they work. In California last week, for example, Wal-Mart was found to have deprived one hundred and sixteen thousand workers of their legally guaranteed lunch breaks.

Wal-Mart exploits undocumented workers. Last March Wal-Mart was ordered to pay eleven million dollars to immigrant workers who'd been forced to work off the clock cleaning their stores.

Wal-Mart discriminates against women. Just a year and a half ago, the largest class action lawsuit in history was filed on behalf of one point six million current and former women employees who claimed discrimination.

Wal-Mart treats workers with disabilities unfairly. In 2001, Wal-Mart had to settle thirteen lawsuits which all alleged discrimination against those with disabilities.

Wal-Mart breaks the laws to keep unions out. The National Labor Relations Board has issued sixty complaints against Wal-Mart since 1995 for illegal retaliation including firings, unlawful surveillance, threats and intimidation.

Wal-Mart pays poverty wages. The average Wal-Mart worker makes about one thousand dollars less than the federal poverty guideline.

And a majority of Wal-Mart workers have lousy benefits. Tens of thousands of Wal-Mart workers rely on welfare for their health insurance, which leaves taxpayers picking up the cost while Wal-Mart's three billion dollars in annual profits are protected.

Taken all together, this paints an ugly picture of a corporate behemoth and some communities have decided to take action beyond the courts.

Earlier this month, in a stunning development, with a vote strong enough to override a veto by their Governor, the Maryland state legislature required Wal-Mart to spend eight per cent of payroll to cover their workers' health care, or else contribute the difference to the state's Medicaid fund. Bills along these same lines are now pending in thirty-one other state legislatures. And in Vermont, where the push for universal health care is strong, Wal-Mart should be made to pay for its fair share as part of a system that covers everyone.

Wal-Mart is big enough to force itself on us. But it should be restrained from forcing its values on us. The fact is that Wal-Mart is a low-road employer. It gives us low prices, yes, but also low wages, low benefits, low regard for the environment and low respect for the diverse and homegrown economy we value in Vermont. Some communities and some states are trying to force Wal-Mart onto the high road. We should too.

I'm Ellen David Friedman in East Montpelier.

Ellen David Friedman is vice chair of the Vermont Progressive Party and has been active in the labor movement for 25 years. She spoke from our studio in Montpelier.

For another point of view on this topic, listen this afternoon for commentator John McClaughry during All Things Considered.
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