Booze, Baseball, and another "B"

Monday, September 19, 2005

Well, knock me over with a feather...

In the, "well..duh" department, this AP article describes a lawsuit against Wal-Mart, by former employees, who claim they were denied lunch breaks.

While I think that it is great employees are standing up for themselves regarding this treatment; what many people either don't know, or don't care to know, is that MANY retailers systematically and illegally (using the article's words) deny employees lunch breaks. This is not a practice that is only happening at Wal-Mart. And everywhere it happens is "for the God Almighty dollar" (again, article's word choice).

What the non-retail working public at large isn't aware of is why this happens.

Companies often do their best to maximize each dollar they make. While most companies have the highly-overpaid upper management, and the excessive offices, and the company-paid apartments in Manhattan, and the other perks so many companies dole out to their employees and families (for a good spoof on this, see "Arrested Development), most companies try to find ways to make sure they are able to make these extravagant purchases, via controlling regular expenses.

The easiest expense for a retail company to control is payroll. That is, the number of hours employees work and the amount employees are paid. In this case, Wal-Mart was probably doing what many other retail companies do, keeping the payroll hours so low they force people into missing breaks and lunches because there is nobody else on the clock to take their place.

When people who don't work in a retail setting hear this information, they often gasp and ask questions such as "why don't you do something about it?" The answer is that most states have set up their laws to be pro-business (which I am not saying is a bad thing). Most states have "at-will employment" laws, which allow them to both hire and fire when they like and for whatever reason they like. Because of this, if you don't like the working conditions either you're told to leave, or your released. On top of that, most states Labor Departments aren't concerned with someone who is complaining their boss didn't give them a lunch break; they don't care and don't look into it.

So where does all of this leave us? Hopefully these people win their case, and get a big settlement from Wal-Mart, enough to send a strong message to not just Wal-Mart, but other employers who engage in these practices. These employers will continue to walk the line between ethical and unethical treatment of employees until someone shows them that it is unacceptable to do so.

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