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    News and Updates

March 18, 2005

Wal-Mart to Pay Record Federal Fine for Illegally Exploiting Employees

Statement by UFCW International President Joe Hansen
Regarding Wal-Mart Immigrants Settlement

Today’s record $11 million fine against Wal-Mart should be a wake-up call to a corporation that has systematically bent and broken the law to increase their corporate coffers at the expense of the most vulnerable employees.

While Wal-Mart may have settled this case with the federal government, the jury is still out as to whether they will change their exploitive behavior.

Following the child labor settlement just a few weeks ago, this record fine further illustrates that Wal-Mart’s corporate culture of greed and arrogance is completely out of step with basic American values.

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March 18, 2005

Wal-Mart Imposes KGB Style-Informant System on German Employees

According to workers at Wal-Mart stores in Germany, the giant retailer is attempting to impose a code of conduct on employees, complete with a secret informant hot line. Workers are under threat of job loss if they fail to report co-workers of suspected code violations.

It isn’t lost on the Germans and other Europeans that not so long ago communists in East Germany relied on informant machinery run by its infamous security force.

One of the provisions in the company’s code forbids intimate relationships among co-workers, and requires employees to inform on each if they suspect violations.

Ulrich Dalibor, head of German union ver.di’s retail trade sector, charged Wal-Mart with a serious violation of German law by issuing its ethics code before consulting the worker-management councils. Under German law, employee-management councils must agree on a wide range of workplace policies.

Charging Wal-Mart with employing a double standard, Dalibor said that while the company imposes a code of conduct on employees, it abstains from imposing any such standards on its own behavior.

Wal-Mart faces worldwide condemnation for choosing to close a Canadian store rather than agree to a fair and impartial settlement for wages and benefits with unionized workers. Wal-Mart has been cited by nine U.S. states for having an inordinate number of its employees receiving taxpayer provided medical assistance. The company, which has cheated workers out of pay, faces the largest sex-discrimination suit in U.S. history. Numerous other Wal-Mart actions that fail to meet responsible standards can be found at www.ufcw.org.

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March 17, 2005

Wal-Mart Has Highest Number of Employees on Welfare In Homestate

Washington DC—In Arkansas, the birthplace and headquarters of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the state’s Department of Human Services released damning figures yesterday stating that the retail giant leads the list of top 10 employers whose workers are receiving state welfare. Arkansas is the ninth state to release such figures recently, showing Wal-Mart consistently ranking at or near the top in total employees on state aid.

According to a statement by the United Food and Commercial Workers at www.ufcw.org, “Wal-Mart is in the midst of a multi-million dollar media effort in an attempt to hide serious employment practice problems. When the company continues to price health care coverage out of reach of approximately 700,000 employees nationwide, it’s bound to force workers onto state aid programs and force taxpayers to foot the bill for Wal-Mart’s irresponsible corporate behavior.”

The Arkansas study shows that nearly 4,000 of the companies 45,106 employees are on public assistance, with a vast majority of them receiving Medicaid for their children.  Food stamps and transitional employment make up the rest of the public assistance, costing the state $39.6 million per year.

“Wal-Mart—one of the richest companies in the world—has cheated workers out of pay, shifts health care costs to taxpayers, faces the largest sex discrimination suit in history, and puts illegal operations into motion whenever workers seek a voice on the job,” noted the UFCW statement. “It’s a company where fairness for employees and taxpayers in communities where Wal-Mart operates is hard to find. Every one, in one way or another, has to pick up the tab for Wal-Mart’s irresponsible conduct.””

While Wal-Mart claims to have similar health care coverage as other large retailers, a recent Harvard Business School study shows otherwise. The study, conducted in 2002, shows that Wal-Mart spent an average of $3,500 a year on health care for each employee, compared with $4,800 for the average retailer and $5,600 for the average U.S. company.  In Tennessee these numbers are even worse, with 9,617 of Wal-Mart’s 3,700 employees, or 26%, on state aid according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

This nation-wide trend is putting pressure on state health care systems.  To contrast the problem of employers like Wal-Mart shifting the cost of health care on to taxpayers, twenty-six state legislatures are currently considering bills to require states to disclose which employers are abusing state public health care programs.

Wal-Mart is in the midst of a multi-million dollar media effort in an attempt to hid serious employment practice problems.  When the company continues to price health care coverage out of reach of approximately 700,000 employees nationwide, it’s bound to force workers onto state aid programs and force taxpayers to foot the bill for Wal-Mart’s irresponsible corporate behavior.

Wal-Mart—one of the richest companies in the world—has cheated workers out of pay, shifts health care costs to taxpayers, faces the largest sex discrimination suit in history, and puts illegal operations into motion whenever workers seek a voice on the job.  It’s a company where fairness for employees and taxpayers in communities where Wal-Mart operates is hard to find.  Every one, in one way or another, has to pick up the tab for Wal-Mart’s irresponsible conduct.

March 14, 2005

UFCW Receives Leukemia Society

United Food and Commercial Workers Union International President Joseph T. Hansen accepted the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of the UFCW’s 1.4 million members.  The UFCW has raised more than $28 million for the Society’s blood cancer research in the last 23 years.

“I’m proud UFCW members take an active role in the fight against leukemia and other blood-related diseases,” said Hansen.  “And I’m proud we are helping make a difference in the Society’s great efforts to find a cure.”

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is the world’s largest voluntary health organization devoted to researching blood cancers and improving the lives of those affected by the diseases. The Society’s mission is to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and relies on donations to fund research initiatives, patient services and education programs.

“I’m honored that the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society has recognized UFCW’s contributions,” said Hansen.  “But the greatest reward comes from supporting such a worthy and important cause.”

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March 10, 2005

Food and Commercial Workers Leader Tapped for Citizens

Joseph T. Hansen, International President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) was named to a 14-member Citizens’ Health Care Working Group.  Hansen is the only representative from organized labor working with the esteemed group of health care providers, economists, health care advocates and other leaders.

The fourteen panelists, named by the Comptroller General of the United States David M. Walker, were assembled from more than 500 applicants and are charged with the duty of holding a national dialogue on issues relating to health care services, delivery and cost.

“I am deeply honored to serve in this vital endeavor to address the growing health care crisis and I look forward to working with my fellow panelists,” said Hansen.  “The nation’s health care tab is already the highest in the world, and I am committed to exploring solutions that will reduce costs while improving care for the greatest number of people.”

The working group was created by Congress and will hold hearings and community meetings across the country on health coverage and cost issues, and, ultimately, issue a “Health Report to the American People.”

As the leader of the 1.4 million-member UFCW, Hansen represents America’s neighborhood union.  UFCW members put food on the table for America’s families, working in neighborhood supermarkets, as well as in meatpacking, food processing and other industries.

With more than 40 years of experience negotiating contracts covering wages, health care benefits, pensions and other workplace benefits, Hansen is acutely aware of the nation’s health care crisis.   He understands how rising health care costs are forcing a downward pressure on workers’ living standards.  He also knows first-hand how skyrocketing costs are encouraging some employers to scale back and eliminate employee health care plans in order to gain competitive advantages in their industries.

“The health care crisis is a national problem that requires a national solution,” said Hansen.  “I have great confidence that our group can lay the foundation for bringing America together to confront this challenge.”

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February 24, 2005

Wal-Mart on the Run from Its Record

Wal-Mart used children for hazardous jobs in its U.S. stores according to a U.S. Labor Department investigation as reported in the New York Times on February 12, 2005. Wal-Mart is being sued for sexual harassment in Florida by the federal government as reported in the Bradenton Herald on February 18, 2005. Wal-Mart was cited in Alabama for having the most employees on taxpayer-funded Medicaid health program as reported in the Associated Press on February 22, 2005. Wal-Mart is the target of a Georgia legislative initiative on companies with large number of employees receiving taxpayer-funded health care after it was revealed the retail giant ranked number one for employees on the government health program as reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on February 23, 2005.

In a ten-day period, Wal-Mart compiled a virtually unmatched public record of abusive, illegal and irresponsible conduct involving women, children and taxpayers. These most recent reports come on top of Wal-Mart already facing the largest sex discrimination lawsuit in history, court convictions for forcing employees to work without pay, and government complaints for the illegal firing and intimidation of workers for exercising workplace rights. In Canada, Wal-Mart is closing a store and taking away the livelihoods of almost 200 workers rather than comply with the law providing a fair and impartial process to reach a contract with workers.

So what does Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott do?  He delivers a speech attacking the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW).

In his speech delivered in Los Angeles yesterday, Scott glibly ignored the company’s very public record of shameful conduct; blamed the UFCW and other critics (the “guppies” according an earlier Scott pronouncement) for his problems; and, created an alternative reality where low wages, unaffordable benefits, the massive export of U.S. jobs to overseas sweatshops, the suppression of worker rights and taxpayer subsidies for the giant retailer have somehow made the world a better place.

The Scott speech continues a public relations offensive launched several weeks ago to prop up the company’s sagging image, pump up stagnate stock prices, and sidestep holiday season reports that competitors from Sears to Best Buy offered lower prices. The speech contains the same willful distortions and Orwellian double-talk as the company’s ad campaign. Repeating a lie does not make it true.

Scott brags, as did the ads, about the number of full-time employees– except full time in Wal-Mart speak is about 30 hours a week, not 40 hours as in the rest of reality. Scott proudly proclaims that Wal-Mart’s average wages are about twice the minimum wage. He ignores that Wal-Mart uses its enormous political clout– the largest political giver in 2004– to keep the minimum wage in real terms at its lowest level in decades.  Even at the supposed Wal-Mart average wage, a family with a Wal-Mart income is still left scraping the poverty line. Scott cites Wal-Mart health insurance as a positive, but fails to mention that 700,000 Wal-Mart associates do not have the company’s health insurance, and that those who do, pay more on average than employees of other major companies.

In instance after instance, Scott contorts the facts to serve his own purposes. He cites the lack of opposition to his company in communities across California, and declares opposition to Wal-Mart is limited to urbanized areas– except the overwhelming majority of Californians live in those urbanized areas. He talks about company tax payments, but doesn’t mention the tax costs the retailer imposes on states and communities with its low wages and lack of affordable health benefits.

Despite Scott’s protestations, Wal-Mart is not just a simple retailer. Wal-Mart is the largest single economic force in history. It is the largest private employer in the country, and the largest corporation in the world. Walton family members comprise five of the ten richest people in the world. About one percent of the wealth of just one of the Walton richest five would provide affordable health insurance for all Wal-Mart workers in the U.S.  Wal-Mart is about high profits, not low prices.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union has 1.4 million members working in neighborhood supermarkets, retail stores, meat packing and food processing plants. UFCW retail members work for major retailers such as Kroger, Safeway and Albertsons.

February 18, 2005

Grocery Workers To Vote On Vastly Improved Settlement

Washington DC—Denver-area UFCW members working at Kroger operated King Soopers supermarkets will be voting over the next few weeks on a settlement designed by a federal mediator.

The UFCW International Union intervened to discontinue voting last November on a company contract offer that would have jeopardized health care coverage not only for Denver-area UFCW members but also members across the country. After a subsequent negotiating session ended in no movement toward a settlement, the company requested that the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service design a projected agreement based on bargaining documentation submitted by both the union and the company. When UFCW members serving on the bargaining committee representing King Soopers’ workers agreed to the process, the mediation service took up the task of putting a settlement together.

“The projected agreement ensures affordable health care for UFCW members and is in line with other agreements recently ratified in Seattle, Northern California, and Las Vegas,” said UFCW International President Joe Hansen. “It’s definitely a major improvement over the company’s offer last year.”

The settlement option preserves affordable family health care. Under the projected agreement, UFCW members will have a $5 to $15 weekly premium co-pay, depending on the type of  coverage.  The company’s original offer would have destroyed the grocery workers’ health and welfare fund and eliminated any meaningful family coverage.

The agreement option also secures the workers’ pension fund, requiring increases in the company’s pension contributions, and provides real wage increases, as well as bonuses. There is no two-tier wage or health care benefit provision in the contract, although new workers will have to wait longer to achieve the full wage and benefit package.

“The last two years at the negotiating table have been extremely contentious, especially on the health care issue,” Hansen pointed out. “Denver negotiations haven’t been any different. I think the mediator’s crafted settlement allows UFCW members working at King Soopers to provide financial and health care security for their families.”

February 17, 2005

Stop Child Labor At Wal-Mart

Food and Commercial Workers Union and Child Labor Coalition Present Proposal to Immediately Stop the Use of Children in Hazardous Jobs at Nation’s Largest Employer

Wal-Mart could stop illegal child labor in its stores through distinctive employee badges for underage workers that could readily identify them as being prohibited from hazardous assignments, according the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the Child Labor Coalition. Combined with unannounced Labor Department inspections, the use of children for hazardous jobs would come to a rapid halt.

The two organizations are sponsoring, at www.ufcw.org, an e-mail campaign directed at Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott and U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao asking them to abandon a sweetheart deal on child labor announced earlier this week, and to take meaningful action to end the abuse of young workers.

Key to the union/coalition proposal is the re-badging of underage workers. Both managers and young workers would always be aware that certain assignments are illegal. Compliance would require unannounced inspections to make sure that badges are properly issued, and that no manager is pressuring minors into illegal assignments.

Scott and Chao are being presented with a demand to amend a settlement agreement that required the Labor Department to give Wal-Mart an unprecedented 15 days notice before any inspection. Advanced notice clearly undermines compliance, and allows managers simply to re-assign underage workers before an inspection.

Hundreds of children are maimed and crippled in accidents, some losing arms and legs, every year involving balers and compactors commonly used in Wal-Mart and other retail stores to handle the disposal of boxes and similar materials. The law has long prohibited minors from operating this kind of machinery. A Labor Department investigation brought allegations that Wal-Mart was using illegal child labor to operate the hazardous equipment in several states. To settle the case, Wal-Mart paid $135,000 and the Labor Department agreed to advance notice of inspections.

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The UFCW and Child Labor Coalition’s actions today are supported by leading worker advocates in the U.S. Congress, including Representative George Miller (D-Calif.) and Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). Their statements follow:

Statement of Representative George Miller (D-Calif.), Senior Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce

I congratulate UFCW and the Child Labor Coalition for proposing a workable, inexpensive and effective way to end the illegal use of child labor, and I would hope that both Wal-Mart and the Department of Labor will respond positively.

Statement of Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) on Wal-Mart’s Sweetheart Deal with Department of Labor on Child Labor Violations

The Department of Labor has shamefully abdicated its responsibility by acquiescing in Wal-Mart’s continuing violation of child labor laws and other worker protections. Even worse, the Department conspired with Wal-Mart to conceal this sweetheart deal from the public. The Department is there to enforce the law, not be muzzled by America’s largest employer.

 

February 14, 2005

Wal-Mart Uses Children for Hazardous Jobs in U.S. Stores

STATEMENT OF THE UNITED FOOD AND COMMERCIAL WORKERS INTERNATIONAL UNION

The nation’s largest employer, and one the nation’s largest corporate political donors, was cited for using children in dangerous jobs in its U.S. stores; and, then got a sweetheart deal that gives the company fifteen days advance notice before the government will initiate any investigation of future violations of federal workplace laws.

According to allegations contained in a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor, Wal-Mart was engaged in the unconscionable practice of using children to operate hazardous machinery in stores in New Hampshire, Arkansas and Connecticut. The machinery referenced in the case— balers, shredders and compactors— are standard equipment in retail stores, and are commonly associated with injuries involving the crushing or severing of arms and hands. Safety regulations on the books for decades have prohibited employers from using  children to operate the machines. A company the size of Wal-Mart with a long history of operating retail stores should have been well aware of the law as well as the dangers to children in operating the restricted machinery.

While the corporate giant with billions of dollars in revenue agreed to pay a $135,000 fine, its representatives got a sweetheart deal that could insulate the company from getting caught in future violations. Wal-Mart gets fifteen days written notice of any government investigation or audit. Wal-Mart can work a child on a compacting machine or baler without fear of any unannounced enforcement action, and simply reassign the child worker during the time of the prearranged inspection. Further, the agreement allows the company ten days to correct the violation. A literal reading of the agreement would allow Wal-Mart to continue to put children at risk for over a week even if the government uncovered the violation.

Wal-Mart was the biggest political giver in the 2004 election, with the overwhelming majority of its money going to the party controlling the White House, Congress— and, the Department of Labor.

The UFCW is preparing a letter to the Secretary of Labor, and will seek Congressional review of the agreement.

February 11, 2005

Reports Confirm Line Speed, Discrimination Put Meatpacking and Poultry Workers at Risk

Washington DC — The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) urges immediate action to correct dangerous line speeds in meatpacking and poultry plants where injury rates are three times that of other manufacturing sectors.

A report by the Government Accounting Office (GAO), ordered by Senator Edward Kennedy, shows what workers in the industries have been subjected to for years:

  • Dangerous line speeds
  • An absence of injury and illness monitoring by OSHA
  • Intimidation that leads to under-reporting of injuries
  • Department of Agriculture inspectors without adequate training for recognizing hazardous conditions

“Blood, Sweat, and Fear,” a Human Rights Watch report, finds that the industries’ largely immigrant workforce “contend with conditions, vulnerabilities and abuses, which violate human rights,” including:

  • Life-ending injuries
  • Lack of compensation for injuries
  • Discrimination against immigrant workers
  • Illegal company actions to suppress workers’ rights to form unions

The reports call for immediate action by both employers and federal and state governments to rectify these conditions. “The GAO and Human Rights Watch reports have put the spotlight on these industries,” said UFCW International President Joe Hansen. “These findings underscore the need for immediate concrete action to correct these long-standing problems to ensure the safety of workers who put dinner on the table for American families.”