is fighting with every ounce of its considerable strength
against a class action lawsuit, initiated about 10 years
ago on behalf of hundreds of thousands of women who have
or are working for the company, because if the world’s largest
retailer loses, there could be repercussions throughout
lawsuit charges that women, in general, are paid considerably
less than men in the same jobs and positions throughout
the company. According to the Associated Press, Brad
Seligman, who conceived of and filed the suit, said that
the average pay for a woman at Wal-Mart was $13,000, about
$1,100 less than the average for a man.
that differential is significant, if you are making that
low a wage, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to
initiate a lawsuit on your own behalf and see it through
to its final conclusion. That’s why class action lawsuits
have been so important to Americans in every sphere of life,
whether it’s an environmental issue, a consumer issue, or
a working issue. That’s why Wal-Mart wants to deal with
the pay discrimination issue on an individual-by-individual
basis. They know working class Americans will run out of
money or energy before they could ever hope to win a court
35 years ago, it was calculated that women made 59 cents
for every dollar that a man made in the same job, in the
same line of work. Today, that differential has been reduced
by about 15 or 20 cents, but pay is still well below the
amount that a man would be paid for the same work. Thus,
the issue of pay equity was born.
equity is the concept that women should receive equal pay
for the same or comparable work. When there is a contract
in the workplace, something that usually exists where there
is a union, the pay for men and women in the same job is
clearly written into the contract, in the pay schedule.
is now decades since the concept of equal pay for the same
or comparable work was defined, and toward which a great
struggle was launched in the 1970s, yet that same fight
is being fought against that bastion of worker maltreatment
and exploitation, Wal-Mart, and it is culminating in a monumental
lawsuit that involves as many as 1.5 million women workers,
past and current employees of the Beast of Bentonville (Arkansas).
U.S. Supreme Court is to decide first whether the case can
go forward as a national class action case, or whether the
plaintiffs should be directed to form their own class on
a more local basis. That is, there might be thousands of
lawsuits required, if the court rules in the direction of
the latter prospect.
the company would prefer to deal with small class action
lawsuits all across the country, since the plaintiffs would
have fewer resources and support for their individual cases.
The plaintiffs in the current case, initiated in 1998, need
the case to go forward as it is. Wal-Mart and dozens of
other giant corporations want the plaintiffs to be forced
to go it on their own, since a win on the part of all of
the workers would have profound implications for all such
a union in Wal-Mart would have mitigated the worst of the
discrimination, even though it is not likely that a union
contract could have eliminated all discrimination inside
the corporation that has been described as having a culture
of discrimination against women. But unionization efforts
at Wal-Mart have been fought, in essence, to the death and
the company still is union-free.
discrimination lawsuit will be a tough one, as indicated
by the tactics used by Wal-Mart against unionization efforts
in both the U.S.
and in Canada.
When workers at a store in Quebec
voted for a union, the company (in an extremely unusual
move) closed the store, on the basis that it was not performing
well enough. When workers in a meat department of a U.S.
Wal-Mart store voted to unionize, the company not only closed
that department in that store, but it closed similar departments
where they existed, so that it could not be charged with
discrimination against unionized workers or their union.
are women who work at Wal-Mart who will defend the company
with every ounce of energy they have. Usually, they are
those who are in positions of authority or in jobs that
are in a (relatively) high pay bracket. Gisel Ruiz indicated
to the AP that the suit is unnecessary, that women
do very well at Wal-Mart. She is the executive vice president
for people, the new Wal-Mart name for personnel or human
resources. Ruiz said she was hired out of college and was
running her own store in less than four years. Others also
point out their positions as highly paid or supervisory
workers, but what else would they be expected to say?
these circumstances, only a lawsuit at the company-wide
level will show whether there is a culture of discrimination
against women. One of the lead plaintiffs, Christine Kwapnoski,
told the AP that she and many others were promoted
into management shortly after the lawsuit was filed.
American culture has become one in which euphemisms are
its stock in trade. That is, they use terms and words that
bear no resemblance to reality. The illusions that are created
become part of the language and are embraced by the people
as if they are true. For example, Wal-Mart began calling
its workers “associates” a long time ago. Other corporations
followed suit, because it was a way of giving workers the
idea that they were somehow closer to equals to the bosses.
workers caught on to that, some corporations have started
calling their workers “partners,” as if they have a say
in the operation of the business. These tactics are simply
a way to take some of the sting out of the conditions in
which workers find themselves: low wages, few benefits,
no pension, health care that is expensive or absolutely
inadequate for the amount paid for premiums. And, perhaps,
most important, they are made to feel a (false) sense of
“ownership” of the enterprise and therefore, it is assumed,
will work harder for little compensation to see that the
psychology of management has become more and more sophisticated
through most of the 20th Century and it doesn’t seem to
have slowed much. All of it is aimed to control the workers
that remain on the job in the U.S. High unemployment makes
management’s job easier, because every worker knows that
there are five or 10 workers waiting to take his or her
job, even though it might be temporary.
class action lawsuit is vitally important for women, but
it is important for men, as well. It is important for all
workers that the suit go forward on a company-wide scale.
American workers have seen the power of Corporate America
over the past several months, as their minions in elected
office do their bidding in such places as Wisconsin, Ohio,
Indiana, Maine, and many other places.
though, the answer to the power of faceless corporate bureaucrats
is to unionize the workplaces of America.
For that to happen, there needs to be a great awakening
of workers, from coast to coast. Only when they are educated
and organized will we see an end to the kind of abuse and
discrimination that corporations have freely engaged in
for many decades.
looks as if that awakening is occurring. It is slow, but
the peaceful demands for their rights by American workers
is much preferable to the chaos that has been seen in times
past, both in this country and in others. Agitate, educate,
Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former
union organizer. His union work started when he became a
local president of The Newspaper Guild in the early 1970s.
He was a reporter for 14 years for newspapers in New York State. In
addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers
as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure
from factory food producers and land developers. Click here
to contact Mr. Funiciello.