Wal-Mart pushed to improve poor civil rights record


Community, faith and union leaders gathered Thursday at the Wal-Mart store in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood to denounce the retailer’s poor civil rights record.

The action was one of 13 taking place across the country to call attention to the employment practices of the nation’s largest employer. The theme of the protest: “Think Wal-Mart Isn’t a Civil Rights Issue? Think Again.”

Currently, more than 2 million female Wal-Mart employees or former employees are part of the largest gender discrimination lawsuit in U.S. history. In addition, some 10,000 African-American truck drivers are suing the company for racial discrimination.

In addition to discrimination, all Wal-Mart workers are suffering from economic inequality at the company, the demonstrators said. The average full-time Wal-Mart worker earns $2,000 below the poverty line for a family of four, according to data compiled by the website, www.wakeupwalmart.com

“People who work at Wal-Mart actually still receive public assistance,” said Vera Ashley, senior organizer for Minnesota ACORN, one of the groups sponsoring Thursday’s event. “We think that is bad.”

“When you put it all together, it’s really a moral question,” said Matt Gladue, director of the Workers Interfaith Network.

Wal-Mart’s expansion in Minnesota has been slowed by community protests. Currently, the company is considering two stores in the Twin Cities area – in Forest Lake and Vadnais Heights, said Bernie Hesse, special projects director for United Food & Commercial Workers Local 789, the union that organizes retail workers.

Opposition to Wal-Mart has become “not only a labor issue,” he said. “It’s environmental, it’s quality of life, it’s local control . . . Together we’re going to change Wal-Mart’s behavior.”

Community, faith and other groups are sending letters to Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott, calling on him to commit to increasing the number of women and minorities in management positions, provide health care coverage for all employees, raise wages so that no Wal-Mart employee lives in poverty and create an “independent, diversity committee” to guide the company into becoming a model employer.