Workers testify against Walmart at second Council hearing
by Lisa A. Fraser
Feb 22, 2011 | 5456 views | 0 0 comments | 67 67 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sandra Carpenter worked at Walmart from 2008 to 2010 in Maryland. After being promoted to department manager, she led the workers and some would come to her for help. But she noticed a change in the way management treated her after she stood up for her rights one day.

“I was called into the office and brought a coworker with me so that I would have a witness, since there's always more than one person from management in that kind of meeting,” she said. “After that meeting, I noticed a change in the way I was treated.”

She soon noticed that she was often assigned to duties that were not part of her job description and was given excessive work. She went from doing 200 price changes to 3,000 price changes. She worked more than two hours a day off the clock.

Carpenter said that to stop workers from joining any unions, Walmart “would send a man named Bob” to show department managers a video of how unions are bad. “Walmart counts on fear to keep employees in place,” she said.

She was fired in July 2010 because she “marked prices too late,” but she believes it was because of her former actions of speaking out.

That is what she told City Council members on Thursday, February 17, when the Council held their second and final hearing on Walmart’s labor practices and how the big box retailer would affect New York City.

Other former employees also testified, sharing very similar experiences. But again, Walmart did not show up.

The retailer sent a statement that noted they didn't feel the need to be present because they are “proud of our track record on this topic” and because their position remains “that the Council should first conduct a comprehensive review of existing businesses in the city before embarking on a theoretical exercise.”

Carpenter is part of a class-action lawsuit involving 1.6 million women who claim they have been unfairly paid and discriminated against by Walmart. It is said to be the largest class-action suit regarding employment discrimination in the nation's history.

In Walmart's letter declining their invitation to appear before the joint committee hearing, the company noted that more than 850,000 of Walmart's associates are female and more than 41 percent of Walmart officials and managers are women.

“No one would argue with the desire to seek out cheaper prices on clothes, food and other products, particularly in light of the current economic climate,” said Deborah Rose, chair of the Committee on Civil Rights. “Unfortunately, we have seen time and time again that often the store's low prices come at a high cost to its employees.”

The Council heard from various panels of former Walmart employees, lawyers and workers’ rights groups, such as Americans with Disabilities, New York Women's Agenda and Equal Pay Coalition and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

One panelist noted that Walmart has been known to make workers work off the clock and even through meal and rest breaks, and lawsuits have been filed around the world on discriminatory practices on the part of the retailer.

Walmart spokesperson Steve Restivo said that many of the lawsuits were filed years ago. “The allegations are not representative of the company we are today,” he said in an e-mail message. “Our policy is to pay associates for every hour worked and to provide rest and meal breaks.”

Councilman Eric Ulrich stood as the only supporter of Walmart entering the five boroughs. Speaking about the various cases of discrimination, Ulrich said he doesn't believe that it is totally systemic. 
“If it is so systemic, then why do 1.4 million people in the United States work for Walmart? If it's such a terrible company to work for, over a million people are working for them today,” he said.

Carpenter replied to Ulrich saying that it is because people need jobs. Ulrich noted that that is why he supports Walmart entering New York City.

“But people need good systemic jobs,” Carpenter said.

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