Wal-Mart’s tendency to short its workers their overtime hours has now made it onto the grand stage. The New York Times on June 25th published an extensive article about class action lawsuits in filed by Walmartian “associates” in 28 states asserting that Wal-Mart had a policy of denying overtime pay and forcing its own people to work “off the clock”. One newspaper editorial writer called this “stealing from the employees”. None of this should come as a surprise to Sprawl-Busters readers. Last February, we described the case of a young worker in Burlington, Vermont who was awarded damages for the time Wal-Mart stole from her. Kristy Myers was awarded $26,473 in back wages and damages. She sued the company in 2000, saying that she was frequently forced to work overtime without pay. While she was “off the clock”, she had to put up in-store displays, going around town checking the price of competitors’ drugs, and deliver gifts to doctors’ offices to encourage prescription referrals. She testified that on her own time she had to deliver damaged goods to a local health program. This week, I received another account from a Wal-Mart worker who claims this “time theft” was done to her. Here’s J.W.’s account: “Now, concerning my time. This spans from March – April. We have computerized time clocks and no matter when you clock in, the damn thing just won’t act right. Now about 7 months ago, we had a manager fired for messing with the time to make it seem like there was no overtime earned so he wouldn’t get into trouble. Well, there’s still someone messing with the time clock. I can’t say who or how or when. I do know the why. Well, our rich managers receive bonus checks depending on how good the store is doing money wise. This includes overtime, accidents, etc. The less of either means the more money they receive in their checks…My experience is that I misplaced my badge so I had to put in time adjustments. The combined time adjustments equal to 2 weeks pay and I never got paid for it. I called and I went up there. What didn’t I do to get this straight? They were all pointing the finger at the each other. The process goes like this: First you fill out the hours missed. You get your manager to go over it and sign. Then you place it in a box full of vacation slips, time adjustment, personal time, etc. So, then it’s up to this woman in personnel to put it in the computer. Now, she’s not the only one able to do time adjustments. Anybody with a particular code can go in and make these adjustments. Who can you point the finger at?… What I WANT is to know my rights, because it seems like the odds are against me. I don’t like being treated like I’m the one with the problem. All I want is the money I earned.” According to the NY Times article, this kind of experience at Wal-Mart is all too common. The lawsuits charge that Wal-Mart has cheated its own workers out of millions of dollars a year in pay they never received. Wal-Mart said ‘off the clock’ work is “infrequent and isolated”, but in 2000, Wal-Mart had to pay $50 million to settle a lawsuit that involved 69,000 workers in one state alone (Colorado) who had worked off the clock. In Texas, the Times reported that 200,000 “associates” charged Wal-Mart with underpaying them as much as $150 million over four years time. In other states, workers complained of being routinely “locked in” the store at night to finish cleaning up their departments. Workers didn’t complain, because they were afraid of getting fired. According to the article, every Wal-Mart store has a payroll “budget” based on sales. In addition, Wal-Mart’s computer allows managers to edit the time punches are recorded on employees time cards. The Times referred to this practice as “the creative timecard.”
When you buy something cheap at Wal-Mart, the price in part has been set where it is because of an elaborate chain of exploitation that stretches from the sweatshops in Asia, to the sales floors across America. The workers who make the products, and the workers who sell the products, have had their true labor value robbed from them to give you cheap goods. Technically, you are not buying stolen goods at Wal-Mart, but the people who made and displayed those items have had something stolen from them. Your purchase helps keep the chain of exploitation thriving.