Illegal aliens cleaning the floors at Wal-Mart were paid in cash and didn’t know the name of their employer. In return for their decision to work at Wal-Mart, they are now facing deportation. According to an article in the October 25th. New Jersey Star-Ledger, at the end of each week, a paycheck would appear beneath the battery charger in the maintenance closet. The cleaning crew chief would then cash the check, and divvy it up among his or her crew, in cash. The newspaper described these aliens’ chain of command as “a shadowy multitiered management system in which groups of illegal immigrants work for bosses they’ve never met and for companies some cannot name.” The father of two cleaning crew workers called the illegal status of these workers “really just an out-loud secret.” Federal immigration officials say they wiretapped a Wal-Mart executive to gain evidence that the company was fully aware of the illegal status of these workers. Wal-Mart did not exactly deny the charges in their carefully worded reply to reporters. “We have seen no evidence from the INS that anyone from Wal-Mart was involved in this,” company spokeswoman Sharon Weber told the Associated Press. The illegals appear to have been organized as subcontractors for the cleaning companies, who in turn contracted directly with Wal-Mart. The workers were hired into crews of half a dozen people per store. When the last customers left, the crews would come in and clean. The workers had few days off, were paid around $6 or $6.50 dollars per hour, and had no health insurance or other fringe benefits. It appears unlikely, therefore, that any Social Security taxes or federal/state income taxes were withheld from their pay. Their relationship appears to be strictly on a cash basis with the crew boss. One crew chief responsible for cleaning the Piscataway, New Jersey Wal-Mart, recruited his Mexican workers from a local laundromat and train station. The crew boss told reporters that after working for six days, a check was left in the store’s maintenance closet. The crew boss would cash it, take off the top his share of $350, then pass the rest of the payment to his crew in cash. The arrested workers told officials they had met their supervisors face-to-face, but never were given their names. “If you asked me the name of the company, I wouldn’t know,” one crew boss told the Star-Ledger. “If you asked me what my boss looks like, I wouldn’t know. I’m not playing with you.” These workers now face a deportation hearing. They may be kicked out of the country without ever knowing who their employer was.
This is a classic case of the exploitation of workers in the modern retail conglomerate. The illegal workers are hired on by a mysterious vendor. Wal-Mart can say these workers “do not work for us” and so are just subcontractors of one of their vendors. This creates a ‘distance of deniability’, just as Wal-Mart used it back in the early 1990s when the media was exploring their relationship to Asian sweatshop factories that made Wal-Mart label clothing. These workers are seen as not the responsibility of Wal-Mart. But immigration officials suggest that Wal-Mart knew about the arrangements that brought these illegal workers into their stores. Ironically, in an attempt to keep their stores clean for the public, Wal-Mart has now become linked to a very dirty business of exploiting the labor of illegal workers.