Walmart Strikes Show Company Has Failed to Fix Employee Abuse Problems

The workers’ rights issues with Walmart came to focus in 2012 with the worker strikes on Black Friday. Last November, a judge also approved a settlement of a class action lawsuit with Denver employees over workers’ compensation claims. Walmart has a long history with employee complaints leading to settlements, which in part fueled the Black Friday strikes.

If Walmart hoped that 2013 would bring an end to these suits and settlements, this will not be the year they hoped it would. As the lawsuits and settlements continue to add up, shouldn’t Walmart adjust their internal procedures going forward?

With 2013 barely underway, a judge issued a tentative ruling that would allow Walmart to be included in a federal class action lawsuit over wage theft in California. Walmart maintains that it can’t be held liable for the actions of contractors and subcontractors, but it appears a judge does not agree with them. They maintain that they have a business need that they pay others to fulfill and that is the extent of their involvement. The lawyer for the plaintiff claims that the subcontractor relationship may be on paper only since Walmart owns all the equipment in the building and has their own manager on site.

Walmart has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements over the years and it looks as that trend will continue. They are a retail giant with profits of $15.4 billion in 2011, so it is clear they can afford these settlements. The question is why continue to pay them? Walmart should have plenty of internal data about which of their practices are costing them the most in settlements and adjust accordingly. It seems that a company of this size with this level of profits should be able to have employee policies that can avoid lawsuits.

The idea isn’t for Walmart to be perfect. With the size and scope of their operation, perfection would almost be impossible. As the lawsuits and settlements continue to add up, you would think they would adjust their practices unless they have determined that it is a cost of doing business. At this point, it has not hurt their profitability, but is this what we want as a shining example of our system? Walmart is in a position to show best practices for employee treatment and should take the lessons from their settlements as a tool to adjust their employee policies rather than chalk up their failures as the cost of doing business.