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Workers Protest Anti-Family Scheduling Policies by Wal-Mart

Nearly 200 Wal-Mart workers spontaneously walked off the job in Florida this week in response to new rules that even two department managers leading the walkout deemed "inhuman." Not only were hours cut for all full-time workers -- from 40 hours a week down to 32 hours, but employees were required to be available for any shift around the clock.

Under a new computerized scheduling system, employees might have to work 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. one week and noon to 9 p.m. the next. "So workers cannot pick up their children after school everyday, and part-timers cannot keep another job because they can be called to work anytime," said Guillermo Vasquez, one of the department managers leading the protest.

While top Wal-Mart spokesmen said the reduction in hours was a "mistake", they stood by the abusive scheduling system, one that is intensely anti-family but fits with a strategy outlined in a leaked memo from last year, where Wal-Mart executives hope to drive out full-time workers with families who might demand decent treatment and higher wages.

The Florida walk-outs are just the most visible sign of worker challenges to these abuses by Wal-Mart management. Across the country, Wal-Mart's workers have been suing the company over its illegal abuse of employees-- and they've been winning:

  • Just last week, a Pennsylvania jury found that Wal-Mart owes 187,000 current and former Wal-Mart employees as much as $157 million for illegally forcing them to work "off the clock" and denying them rest breaks.
  • Two years ago, Wal-Mart paid $50 million to settle a Colorado class-action lawsuit by 69,000 current and former Wal-Mart employees over them being forced to work off the clock.
  • In fact, reports indicate that Wal-Mart is facing 44 different lawsuits by employees in 30 states for forcing employees to work off-the-clock.

With Wal-Mart now being held accountable in courts for these illegal pay violations, the company's newer approach is apparently to use abusive scheduling to purposefully drive out experienced workers with family responsibilities who might demand higher pay.

As we discuss in the new Valuing Families Agenda, our legislative agenda collaboration with MomsRising, one way to help preserve decent wages for employees with families is to Prohibit Discrimination against Employees with Family Responsibilities, provisions that few states currently have in their civil rights laws. While companies may need some flexibility in scheduling their employees, deliberately designing schedules to punish those with families should be illegal.

Ending these kinds of anti-family policies by companies like Wal-Mart should be part of a pro-family agenda for every legislator and policy advocate.