Wal-Mart got no breaks this week, when a judge in Oakland, California ordered the company to follow state laws requiring its hourly workers to get rest breaks. The judge also ordered Wal-Mart to provide the court with audits that show rest breaks are being given over the next three years. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Ronald Sabraw found that since 1998, Wal-Mart was out of compliance with the state’s rest break laws, pressured workers to skip their meal breaks in a manner he said was coercive, and stopped tracking its compliance with break rules. The judge said that Wal-Mart executives knew there were “widespread meal and rest break problems.” Last December, a California jury ordered Wal-Mart to pay its “associates” $172.3 million for illegally preventing them from taking breaks. Under California law, employees who work more than five hours must get a 30-minute break. Workers who don’t get the break receive an extra hour’s worth of pay. In it’s 2006 Annual Report, Wal-Mart tells its stockholders that the company is “a defendant in numerous cases containing class-action allegations” and notes, “The company cannot estimate the possible loss or range of loss which may arise from these lawsuits.” In addition to the class action certification in California, other class action lawsuits on this subject are pending in Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington.
In a related case this week, cashiers at Wal-Mart asked a federal judge to order the company to stop threatening to fire Texas employees who join a lawsuit claiming unpaid wages. Workers’ lawyers sent out notices Aug. 4 to more than 100,000 current and former Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club cashiers in Texas, inviting them to join the litigation. Wal-Mart managers asked employees to turn over the notices and sign statements that they never worked off the clock as the suit claims, according to court papers. The cashiers asked U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent to order Wal-Mart to stop “improper communications” with workers. Wal-Mart’s conduct “borderlines on criminal witness intimidation,” the cashiers said in an Aug. 15 request to Kent. It’s illegal under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act “for Wal-Mart to threaten its current and former associates with adverse consequences for filing claims under this lawsuit,” workers said in the suit. One worker in Kingwood, Texas, charged that Wal-Mart managers were threatening workers with firing if they joined the lawsuit. “Each associate is made to log on to the computer to a section called The Wire,” the worker said, “where they must complete an electronic survey stating they do not work off the clock.” Each worker was also asked to “handwrite a statement saying they do not work off the clock. Associates were told by the managers “if they do not compete the electronic survey in The Wire and execute the handwritten statement they can be written up and/or terminated,” the worker said in an affidavit filed with the court.