The headlines across America this week announced that Wal-Mart had agreed to settle a lawsuit against it for $11 million for using illegal workers to clean its stores. But this so-called “Janitorgate” was only part of the use of immigrant workers at Wal-Mart. According to Sprawl-Busters, Wal-Mart has used illegal workers not only to clean its stores, but to build them also. In February of 2001, Sprawl-Busters reported that the federal Immigrantion & Naturalization office found as many as 30 or more illegal immigrants at the construction site for a Wal-Mart supercenter in Lake Charles, Louisiana. According to the American Press, the Walmexicans were carrying counterfeit Social Security cards, doctored immigration cards, and phony driver’s licenses. In this week’s settlement, Federal officials from the Department of Homeland Security charged the giant retailer with using hundreds of illegal immigrants as janitors to clean their stores. Rumors circulated for months that Wal-Mart officials in Bentonville, Arkansas were being investigated as part of the probe. Yet federal officials told the media they were not going to press criminal charges against Wal-Mart, because the company was “cooperating” with the government. Just several weeks ago federal officials were criticized for offering Wal-Mart a sweetheart settlement of claims involving multiple child labor law violations, by giving the company advance notice of any possible site visits. Nonetheless, Wal-Mart’s $11 payment — the companiy always points out these are not ‘fines’ — is reportedly the largest such illegal immigrant payment in history, four times larger than any previous payment. As part of the deal, Wal-Mart gets to say they “did not admit any wrongdoing.” As reported by Sprawl-Busters, this week’s settlement stems from the arrest of more than 100 janitors in four states in 2001, and a similar bust of more immigrants in 21 states in 2003. The company was being investigated by a grand jury at one point in time. In it defense, Wal-Mart claimed its top executives knew nothing of the use of illegal workers, but a company spokesperson admitted, “We acknowledge that we should have had better safeguards in place to ensure that our contractors were hiring only legal workers.” Federal officials also revealed that a dozen of the contractors that worked for Wal-Mart admitted guilt in employing the illegals, and had also agreed to make a payment of $4 million. The workers themselves came from as many as 20 foreign countries. Wal-Mart said their payment would be used to help ensure compliance with immigration laws, and that the company has reduced its use of outside cleaning contractors. Despite the federal settlement, the immigrant workers themselves have sued Wal-Mart in New Jersey, charging that they were forced to work overtime at regular pay rates. The worker’s lawyer told the New York Times, “They generally worked seven nights a week, 364 days a year, and they were often locked in the stores. Now that the federal criminal investigation has been laid to rest, it’s time for Wal-Mart to focus on the individuals who were systematically exploited and to consider what amount of reparations is appropriate.” Wal-Mart has said that the janitor’s plight is a problem for the contractors to resolve, not the retailer. After the $11 million “voluntary” payment, Wal-Mart said, “We don’t want these folks to be treated poorly,” she said. “We’re spending this money so that folks that do this can’t get away with it.” The agreement also stipulates that Wal-Mart cannot hire illegal workers, and has to set up procedures to ensure that its contractors don’t hire illegals either.
There was also a case in Illlinois several years back in which a construction workers union charged that a Wal-Mart contractor was using illegal workers to construct the store. For similar stories on the use of immigrant workers, search Newsflash by “illegal” or “immigrant.” As we have said before, Wal-Mart is a chain store — a chain of exploitation that stretches from the sweatshops in China to the janitor’s closet in every Wal-Mart in America.
There was also a case in Illlinois several years back in which a building trades union charged that a Wal-Mart contractor was using illegal workers to construct its store. For similar stories on the use of immigrant workers, search Newsflash by “illegal” or “immigrant.” As we have said before, Wal-Mart is a chain store — a chain of exploitation that stretches from the sweatshops in China to the janitor’s closet in every Wal-Mart in America.