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Wal-Mart offers low prices, low level of respect for workers

Attention Wal-Mart shoppers: According to an in-house audit done by Wal-Mart three years ago that was recently leaked to The New York Times, the retail chain looked at one week’s worth of time slips and found “1,371 instances in which minors apparently worked too late at night, worked during school hours or worked too many hours in a day,” as well as more than 60,000 “apparent instances of workers not taking breaks” and more than 15,000 “apparent instances of employees working through meal times.” Not only did the world’s largest retailer know they had almost 78,000 violations of labor regulations in one week alone, it also did not do anything about it.

Bearing in mind that this shocking number of violations occurred during only one week and that the retail giant employs 1.2 million people in its stores nationwide — which makes it a bigger employer than the U.S. Army — it should be apparent that something has to change.

Yet, Mona Williams, Wal-Mart’s vice president for communication said to the Times, “Our view is that the audit really means nothing when you understand Wal-Mart’s timekeeping system.” It would be safe to say that 78,000 violations are a big deal, no matter how much one knows about the system Wal-Mart uses.

What makes this even more disturbing is that the company has not changed their behavior in any way, which finally convinced “a longtime Wal-Mart critic hoping to pressure the company to improve working conditions,” according to the Times.

Hopefully Wal-Mart executives will come to their senses and will realize that mistreating workers is not an option. Especially in the current economic environment, Wal-Mart employees often do not have the chance to quit if they are unhappy with their working environment.

Wal-Mart has also been criticized for pressuring employees who want to form unions. In several instances, meat-cutting departments were simply closed because employees were demanding better wages and benefits.

At the same time, while a majority of the workers at Wal-Mart get paid at or slightly above minimum wage, most do not qualify for benefits with the company. The workers instead have to rely on social services paid for by taxpayers’ money.

It is unacceptable that the nation’s largest employer mistreats its employees. Government officials should investigate the matter, as it not only involves 1.2 million U.S. citizens directly, but also is a burden on all taxpayers.

According to Wal-Mart’s corporate Web site, “respect for the individual” has been one of the company’s “three basic, founding beliefs” since its foundation in 1962. It is time for the company to return to this motto, as it is clearly no longer in effect.