Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

"Get Realistic About Wal-Mart"

My letter to the editor rebutting the outrageous allegations T.V Reed made against me last week appeared in today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
Apparently, T.V. Reed believes (Letters, Dec. 31) that the only businesses that should be allowed in Pullman are those which have never had any serious legal or regulatory actions taken against them. If that is the case, then the Pullman Alliance for Responsible Development had better start printing off more petitions and sharpening their pencils, as there is already plenty of "outrage" to go around with existing businesses.

Reed mentions how a California jury just penalized Wal-Mart $172 million for not providing lunch breaks to employees. What Reed may not realize is, in other California litigation over violations of labor laws, Starbucks agreed to pay up to $18 million in 2002 and Rite-Aid settled for $25 million in 2001. A similar lawsuit against ShopKo was filed last month in Idaho.

H&R Block recently made a $62.5 million class action settlement because some eight million customers thought they were receiving a "Rapid Refund" when in fact it was a high-interest loan. In Seattle, criminal charges were brought against Radio Shack (free registration required) after stores there had numerous instances of incorrect price scanning over five years.

So, you see, it's not a question of Wal-Mart's "guilt" or "innocence". Wal-Mart's business practices are proportionately no better or worse than any other national chain. Its biggest sins have been to incur the wrath of the well-funded lobbyists of organized labor and to offend the sensibilities of intellectual and cultural snobs. By the way, there must be more than just a few frivolous complaints against Wal-Mart. Out of 8,000 current lawsuits, 5,100 are for personal injury such as slip-and-fall accidents.

Meanwhile, as the self-appointed "guardians of public morality" purge our local businesses, perhaps the generous and community-minded Moscow merchant Reed refers to wouldn't mind donating 7.7% of Pullman residents' purchases back to the state of Washington.
Here is Reed's letter that appeared on December 31:
Wal-Mart innocent, Connelly guilty?

In a recent letter, local Wal-Mart promoter Tom Forbes attacked respected Moscow businessman Gerard Connelly (owner of Tri-State) for suggesting that the 5,000 lawsuits Wal-Mart faces might indicate some problems with the corporation. Forbes’ weak defense of Wal-Mart is that it is a big company and therefore a big target. In fact, Wal- Mart’s lawsuits are far out of proportion to their size. More important, Forbes seems to imply that these lawsuits must be frivolous. Out of so many, a few surely are. But what Forbes doesn’t tell us is that in a great many of these suits brought by, among others, the U.S. government and several state governments, Wal-Mart has been found guilty as charged.

A few of the huge number of possible examples from this year alone: In February Wal-Mart settled with the federal government for 85 violations of US child labor laws in three states; last week Wal-Mart was fined $115 million for denying lunch breaks to employees in one state (with similar cases pending in 40 others); three weeks ago Wal-Mart generated a new lawsuit when it was caught again using illegal immigrants in Pennsylvania (this in the wake of a leaked memo making clear such actions are corporate policy, not isolated acts).

Why aren’t folks like Forbes outraged at this corporate immorality? Why do they defend in corporations what they would never defend in individual behavior? Forbes also attacked Connelly’s motives, suggesting that this merchant who has donated so much time and money to local community projects, was speaking solely out of economic self- interest. I believe he was speaking out of community interest. We as consumers need to send a message to Wal-Mart CEO’s that if they want our business they must treat their workers fairly, that until they do they are not welcome in our towns.

1 comment:

April E. Coggins said...

I wonder if TV Reed considers WSU to be immoral? More specifically, the College of Education? WSU has been the target of numerous law suits and civil penalties over the years. Maybe TV should resign in indignation?!!!