Recently I had the pleasure of attending a family reunion in a small town in the Northwest corner of Arkansas. Being in the Ozarks allows one to appreciate some of America’s natural beauty. We were in the retirement community of Bella Vista, just north of Bentonville. Never heard of it? Bentonville is the world headquarters of Wal-Mart. That’s right, I was in the belly of the beast.

One evening my vegan brother-in-law and my vegetarian wife decided it was time to purchase some food for our rented townhouse. We were told the only place to go would be the community market. Thinking a community market, like our very own in Clintonville, Ohio. As we pull in my wife quickly points out that it is in fact, a “Wal-Mart Community Market.”

After reluctantly entering and shopping, we went to the checkout line. The other two quickly said, “We’ll be outside.” Alone with the cashier, I was saddened and distraught by feeling forced to give money to Wal-Mart- not unlike the feeling of a progressive voting for John Kerry.

Talking with the cashier, I asked him if he liked his job, and he said he hopes to get over to the warehouse “better money.”

I asked, “Are you union in the warehouse?”

He stopped, looked at me, and looked away to continue the business transaction.

I continued, “You aren’t even allowed to say the word, are you?” I was joking but he seriously looked at me, and shook his head: no.

Why should we be reluctant to shop at Wal-Mart? What could possibly be so bad about a store that makes products affordable to families struggling financially? I realize that Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club usually offer the best prices. However, there is a huge price that is paid in order for their products to be so cheap. That price is found in the erosion to a community’s economic viability, the alleged sexism that prevails within the company, anti-unionization efforts, and some of the lowest paid employees in the country.

As progressives, we fight to reduce anything that is divisive or oppressive. We believe in equality, fairness, and justice. However, at Wal-Mart, 65% of the company's hourly employees are women, but these workers earn 37 cents an hour less than male hourly employees for the same work. This means women working at Wal-Mart make on average 4.5-5.6% less than men for the same work. Even female executives suffer discrimination, as is exemplified by the average male senior vice president at Wal-Mart making $419,435 a year, while the four women senior vice presidents earn an average of $279,772. 1

Wal-Mart’s discrimination against women is evidenced in advancement practices. A statistician’s study found that, “women waited an average of 4.38 years to be promoted, compared to 2.86 years for men.” 2 Considering that females have a majority of the workforce, they surprisingly constitute only 14% of the managers. 3 Additionally, Wal-Mart managers have allegedly forced female managers to have lunch meetings at Hooters as well as required them to visit strip clubs while on business. 4 When doing business with Wal-Mart one supports such practices by providing the financial support for the company to thrive and fight the myriad legislation brought against it. This can be expensive considering that the company was sued 4,851 times in 2000––or about once every 2 hours. 5 Much of this litigation has recently been given the status of a class-action lawsuit, creating the “largest workplace-bias lawsuit in US history.” 6

Wal-Mart’s economic effect on a community is detrimental. As Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club enter a community, their prices are so low that they force other local businesses to close. It is cheaper for consumers, and easier. As a result, they cease going to businesses that pay employees higher wages and are locally owned. The deteriorating effects of this can be found in a detailed report from the University of California- San Diego. 7

A worker’s right to choose to form a union is one that has been challenged on numerous occasions in Wal-Mart’s recent history. To quote the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), “From 1998 through 2003 the National Labor Relations Board has filed more than 45 complaints accusing Wal-Mart managers in more than two dozen stores of illegal practices, including improperly firing union supporters, intimidating workers, and threatening to deny bonuses if workers unionized.” 8

When a consumer benefits from the low prices of Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club, she or he is ensuring and supporting the means Wal-Mart uses to maintain such low costs- low labor costs. One way of doing this is to overwork minors. An audit, now sealed, shows a plethora of child-labor law violations where minors worked more hours than legally permitted. 9

Low labor costs are implemented through low wages. Regular employees are paid too little for what Wal-Mart can afford to pay, and entirely too little for the demands of modern day America. A Washington Post article states that, “According to a study by Forbes, Wal-Mart employees earn an average hourly wage of $7.50 and, annually, a princely $18,000.” 10 Compare that with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which places the average grocery worker’s hourly wage at $10.35.

As a consumer, what can you do? Obviously, you could shop elsewhere. The UFCW represents workers from Kroger, Meijer, and Kohl’s. The UFCW also provides information to “Adopt A Store,” where you or your organization can regularly shop at a local Wal-Mart and get to know store workers. This could lay the groundwork for unionizing. The UFCW website provides more detailed resources and information on how to do this correctly, legally, and with success. 11 Finally, you could inform your family and friends about this issue. 1. “Wal-Mart’s War on Women,” United Food and Commercial Workers, (accessed May 18, 2004)
2. Ellen Hawkes, “What Wal-Mart Women Want,” Ms.13, no. 3 (2003): 54.
3. Stephanie Armour, “Wal-Mart in record sex-bias lawsuit,” USA Today, June 23, 2004.
4. Hawkes., 53.
5. Richard Willing, “Lawsuits follow growth curve of Wal-Mart Giant retailer is a popular target for litigation -- more than 4,800 cases last year -- but plaintiffs soon discover that the company fights to win,” USA Today, August 14, 2001.
6. Steven Greenhouse and Constance L. Hays, “Wal-Mart Sex-Bias Suit Given Class-Action Status,” The New York Times, June 23, 2004.
7. David Karjanen and Murtaza Baxamusa, Subsidizing Wal-Mart: A Case Study of the College Grove Redevelopment Project, 2003. can be accessed at
8. “Wal-Mart’s War on Workers’ Democratic Right to Choose a Union,” United Food and Commercial Workers, (accessed May 19, 2004)
9. Steven Greenhouse, “In-House Audit Says Wal-Mart Violated Labor Laws,” The New York Times, January 13, 2004.
10. Harold Meyerson, “In Wal-Mart's America,” The Washington Post, August 27, 2003.
11. Some websites that provide excellent, straightforward information about unions can be found at (This is for Target employees, but an excellent introduction to unions), UFCW’s website at, and the Ohio local of UFCW is at They all obviously have “related links” that can be further helpful.