Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Wal-Mart -- DOL Deal: Clinton Did It Too? Not!

In the matter of the Department of Labor's special pre-notification deal with Wal-Mart, DOL's chief defense has been a version of “Clinton did it too, so get off of our case."

Assistant Labor Secretary Victoria Lipnic has defended the deal in the February 12 New York Times by arguing that "We usually call employers before we go to investigate...[There is] nothing uncommon or unprecedented about that." Lipnic later told the Wall St. Journal that the Department of Labor had similar agreements with Sears-Roebuck, Inc.

Then yesterday, DOL’s head lawyer, Solicitor of Labor, Howard Radzely, told CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight: "
This is a typical agreement where we do give companies a period in which they can immediately correct the violation to get children out of harm's way. And then we follow that up with a thorough investigation, during which anything we find can be enforced and the company can be fined."
Sounds convincing, except, oops, it appears they were lying, according to an investigation by Congressman George Miller's (D-CA) office.

Seems that the deal that DOL reached with Sears in 1999 (during the Clinton administration) was not exactly identical to the deal reached last month with Wal-Mart.

In 1999, DOL reached an agreement with a select number of Sears and Foot Locker stores that had been cited for previous child labor violations (or where workers under 18 were employed)where the companies agreed to conduct a number of self-audits at certain facilities and report the results to DOL. When DOL received a complaint from one of those specific stores, but the audit had not yet been finished, DOL would notify the store of the complaint – for the express purpose of allowing the store to finish its self-audit. It was not a blanket pre-notification agreement with all Sears outlets, as opposed to the Wal-Mart agreement that applies to all stores and where there is no self-audit agreement.

In addition,
The Wal-Mart agreement gives the company a 10-day abatement period to bring the store into compliance following a DOL finding of a violation. There is no abatement period in the Sears and Foot Locker agreements. Those companies were expected to fix the problem immediately or face penalties. There is no rationale for providing an abatement period to Wal-Mart or anyone, particularly when children's safety is at issue.
Oh, and one other point. The agreement between DOL and Wal-Mart allows Wal-Mart to approve any DOL statements. No such agreement existed between Foot Locker or Sears and DOL.

Also, check out Lou Dobbs'interview with George Miller talking about what Wal-Mart is doing to workers' rights over at Laborblog where Nathan Newman also makes the following observation:
One less discussed aspect of the secret deal with Wal-Mart is that workers are actually able to collect double damages if they had a chance to take Wal-Mart to court for violating minimum wage and other Fair Labor Standards Act violations, but since Wal-Mart gets to "fix" the problem, workers are unlikely to receive the damage payments they're owed. It's a bit like if, when the police catch a bank robber, the full punishment was just giving the money back with no other penalty.
Stay tuned. Undoubtedly more to come.

Related Stories

More Wal-Mart/DOL Shenanigans, February 15, 2005

Miller Calls For Investigation of Wal-Mart Deal February 15, 2005

Bush Labor Department Puts Wal-Mart in "Privileged Position" February 12, 2005

Wal-Mart: Following In The Proud Footsteps of the Tobacco, Beer and Petroleum Industries February 11, 2005

Wal-Mart Enters 19th Century: Locks Workers In Overnight January 18, 2004