October 4, 2002

Women's Organizations Protest Wal-Mart

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As part of a nationwide protest against the retail giant Wal-Mart, local activists joined in a press conference held at Catholic Charities in Ithaca. The conference — organized by local members of the National Organization of Women (NOW), the Midstate Labor Council, and the Tompkins County Living Wage Coalition — took place last Monday.

The protesters classify Wal-Mart as a “Merchant of Shame” because of its abuse of employees, especially women, stated Kim Gandy, President of NOW, in a statement issued Monday.

“There are over 3,200 Wal-Marts just like this one in the United States,” Gandy said, standing outside a Wal-Mart in Alexandria, Virginia. “Nationwide, two-thirds of the low-paid sales associates are women, while two-thirds of the management employees are men, and not surprisingly, 90% of the store managers are men as well.”

Local NOW president Laurie Gardener echoed the sentiment of Gandy’s statement.

“The reason for doing this is that we do care about women workers and how women are being treated,” Gardener said. “This is a women’s issue. Most of the people working minimum wage jobs there are women.”

This recent public outcry is just the latest of many charges against Wal-Mart. The corporation is currently facing the largest sexual discrimination suit in history based on the fact that only one-third of managers or supervisors are women while almost three-quarters of hourly workers are women.

The Cornell Labor Coalition has also expressed intense concern over Wal-Mart’s business practices especially in light of their plans for opening a store in Ithaca, according to Carl Feuer, head of the Cornell Labor Coalition.

“We’re not opposed to Wal-Mart,” Feuer said. “We’re opposed to employers paying employees less than what they can live on.”

“The living wage in Tompkins County was found to be $17,500 a year for a single person living alone or $8.43 an hour. Most Wal-Mart employees make about $6.50 an hour and most of those employees are women,” he added.

Additionally, two-thirds of all Wal-Mart employees are not covered by health insurance and may qualify for federal assistance due to their low income level.

Wal-Mart officials could not be reached for comment.

The protesters acknowledged that this press conference may do little to prevent the opening of a new store in Ithaca next year.

Wal-Mart’s classification as a “Merchant of Shame,” however, means that NOW will make a public demonstration of their disapproval of the retailer’s labor practices and will encourage its members and the public to avoid shopping there.

“I think people need to be aware that Wal-Mart is basically abusing their employees,” Gardener said. “It’s a matter of their own profit margin. I think people should put pressure on Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart will have to deal with it then.”

In reacting to the recent controversy, students said they had noticed the effects of Wal-Mart’s employment practices in its stores.

“When you walk in Wal-Mart, you always notice that they never have enough employees to help you and that the store is never clean,” Matt Nassr ’05 said. “Maybe if they paid their employees well, their stores would look better.”

Archived article by Gautham Nagesh