Wal-Mart fines hurt those they are meant to help

There’s no reason to go easy on Wal-Mart.

It’s the world’s largest retailer, with 3,000 U.S. stores and sales of $284.8 billion for the year ending Jan. 28.

It routinely manipulates suppliers into harmful agreements. It undercuts local businesses. It refuses to unionize. It has been accused of discriminatory hiring and promotion practices. It has repeatedly disregarded child labor laws.

It has locked the doors on its own employees late at night, preventing them from leaving the store even to seek medical attention for job-related accidents.

So why on earth would the Department of Labor — the government organization that claims to “foster and promote the welfare of the job seekers, wage earners and retirees of the United States” — respond to the corporation’s latest malfeasance with a slap on the wrist and promise to give advance warning the next time it plans to investigate wrongdoing?

We’re not sure, but we are dismayed.

The Department of Labor announced Monday a deal it struck with Wal-Mart in early January fining the retailer $135,540 for allowing minors to operate chainsaws, cardboard bailers and forklifts — actions that resulted in at least one injury. Not only is this a laughable sum for a company that needs 12 figures to count its revenues, but the department also allowed Wal-Mart to deny wrongdoing in this particular case and promised to give a warning 15 days before the next time it opens an investigation. So much for promoting job seekers and wage earners.

Such rulings and sweetheart deals — as Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., rightfully termed the agreement earlier this week — shake our confidence in the separation of corporate interest and government. Who’s really in charge here? Is the dog wagging the tail, or is the tail wagging the dog?

Opinions conflict on this point — some officials have called the Wal-Mart deal highly unusual, while others have said its a common practice. Regardless, there is a problem.

No matter who is closer to the truth, we have a problem; the department is at least a sweetheart for the biggest sinner against labor and at worst a whore for all of them. Either way, the job seekers and wage earners suffer.

Iowa State Daily,Iowa State University