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February 16, 2005

Lou Dobbs Goes Off on Wal-Mart Deal

I'm not sure what's happened to Lou Dobbs, who was once an impeccably pro-business reporter but has converted in recented years into a voice of periodic economic populism (although often with an anti-immigrant Buchanesque feel).

Check out this interview with Congressman George Miller (transcript of the interview below). Dobbs asks the real question:

DOBBS: Well, let me ask you this. Because we are in a situation in this country, in our economy, in our society in which corporate America -- and U.S. multinationals, in particular -- have unprecedented political power, influence in your party, influence in the Republican Party, domination on Capitol Hill and certainly the White House, organized labor is an impotent force by all measures here today. What countervailing influence is there for the middle class, for working men and women in this country period?
Good question by Dobbs, and Miller gives a good answer about the danger:
MILLER; Well, there's -- you know, there's public officials like myself who are concerned about the middle class, about their standard of living and their ability to have wages and hours and working conditions that allow them to support their familiar and provide health care and education.

There's labor organizations that watch out for these people. But, every time one of these labor organizations approaches a Wal- Mart, they fire the workers who are involved it. They make their life very difficult. We just saw, I believe it is in Canada, where they got a right to organize and Wal-Mart closed the whole store. So what chance do these people have? Now they have the inside track in the Department of Labor, the last independent party between Wal-Mart's employment practices and their employees, and that's now been taken away because the home office gets the first cut at your grievance. These are -- these people have no real protections in these jobs.

What does that tell them about filing a grievance, that people in the home office are going to look for this, they're going to tell your supervisor, your store manager, and they're going to come looking for you.

This Wal-Mart deal is a symbol of the corruption of government-corporate collaboration, where workers aren't even involved in the supposed solution to corporate crime. A real punishment for Wal-Mart would be for every DOL investigation to be turned over to labor unions, so that the workers could be offered real legal support to pursue their claims against Wal-Mart.

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 FLSA 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.

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Full transcript of Wal-Mart segment

DOBBS: Casey, thank you very much. Casey Wian from Los Angeles.

The Labor Department has fined Wal-Mart for child labor violations, but some are calling the settlement a sweetheart deal for Wal-Mart. Under that agreement, the federal government must give Wal- Mart 15 days' notice before it begins any investigation into whether Wal-Mart has violated child labor laws.

Kitty Pilgrim reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Federal laws don't allow teenagers to operate hazardous loading equipment. The U.S. Labor Department fined Wal-Mart $135,000 for having teenagers doing just that.

Wal-Mart had to promise not to do it again in its 3,000 stores, and post the equipment with warning signs. But they also got what some say is a sweetheart deal. The government will give Wal-Mart 15 days' prior notice of any Labor Department investigation into such matters.

ROBERT REICH, FORMER LABOR SECRETARY: It effectively says to a company, well, if you are big enough and powerful enough, we will give you ample notice to hide any evidence of wrongdoing so that you're not going to get in trouble.

PILGRIM: But Labor Department officials cite similar arrangements made with Sears and Footlocker and defend the practice.

HOWARD RADZELY, SOLICITOR, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR: 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.

PILGRIM: Wal-Mart strenuously denies they have special treatment, saying, "Wal-Mart's agreement with the Department of Labor is similar to those reached with many other companies. There was nothing secret or special about it."

But political watchdog groups are harshly critical of the arrangement, saying it smacks of influence peddling in Washington.

LARRY NOBLE, CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: In 2004, they gave over $2 million in political contributions, making them the No. 1 giver in the retail industry. They're not going to make political contributions unless they think they're going to get something in return.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: Labor experts say what is critical is that Wal-Mart communicates to its managers how strictly they should enforce the laws. Managers are evaluated by their productivity and their profitability. And if the managers in a large retailer are tacitly allowed to bend the rules on youth employment, smaller retailers will be tempted to follow suit -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you very much, Kitty.

Congressman George Miller of California is calling upon the Labor Department's inspector general to investigate whether that settlement is a sweetheart deal for Wal-mart. The congressman joins us in just a moment to talk about why he says the deal puts American workers at risk.

A judge in Tennessee is demanding that foreign-born women learn English. Judge Barry Tatum in Lebanon, Tennessee, made the declaration during a hearing about a Mexican immigrant who failed to immunize her child.

It's not the first time that Judge Tatum has made such as order. His declarations have won the support of many in his community who say immigrants should make a larger, better effort to assimilate into American life.

Still ahead here, one of the country's biggest companies is hiring thousands of new workers and, incredibly, the company is doing so with the help of organizations that support amnesty for illegal aliens.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: My guest tonight is calling for an investigation into whether or Wal-Mart's secret settlement with the Labor Department is what he calls a sweetheart deal.

Congressman George Miller, Democrat of California, joins me now from Capitol Hill. We also invited the CEO and other representatives of Wal-Mart to join us here tonight, but the company declined.

Congressman, good to have you with us.

REP. GEORGE MILLER (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you. DOBBS: You've called for an investigation. What is the likely outcome? How soon, if there is to be one, would you expect it to occur?

MILLER: Well, we would hope that the inspector general would heed our letter for an investigation and do it right away.

Obviously, they have set up a situation where Wal-Mart employees who may file a labor grievance now and in the future are in the situation where that labor grievance will be passed right on to Wal- Mart, bypassing essentially the Department of Labor as an independent arbiter.

So people's rights are being compromised on a daily basis. So we would hope the inspector general would give some real urgency to our request for an inspection of this deal.

DOBBS: You've singled out Wal-Mart, but, as we have reported here tonight, Foot Locker, other companies are also being provided the very same privilege, if you will. Does that also concern you?

MILLER: What concerns me here is the character of the employer, not the size, not the industry, but the character of the employer. You have -- with Wal-Mart, you have a repeat offender, a habitual repeat offender on labor violations, on overtime, on job discrimination, on illegal aliens, on discrimination, on advancement that have impacted tens of thousands of workers, the Wal-Mart employees.

To then now take this labor settlement and draft that into a nationwide agreement where Wal-Mart will get to attend to the labor grievances against it by its employees -- I think there's nothing in Wal-Mart's record to suggest that they have earned that kind of right.

I don't know the labor records of Foot Locker and Sears and others that have been involved in this, but, in this particular case, we have an egregious record against working men and women in this country.

DOBBS: Congressman Miller, let's step back just for a second and say that Wal-Mart has committed a violation. They are given notice by the Department of Labor. They correct it in that two-week period. That's a good thing, is it not?

MILLER: Well, that could be a good thing. We have compliance agreements throughout all different kinds of the agencies in the government, but in this case...

First of all, when were they going to tell the employees of Wal- Mart that this agreement had been arrived at, and when were they going to tell the employees what kind of labor agreements are covered? It appears from the e-mail in the Labor Department and the agreement that it covers all labor violations.

And it also -- the question is -- you send a complaint to the Department of Labor, and you forward them this complaint, and, the next thing you know, they're sending it to the home office. There's a real chilling effect here on these workers. These workers don't have a union, they don't have an organization to protect them, many of them are low-income, and this is...

DOBBS: Or are below legal age, in some cases.

MILLER: In this case, they're below legal age...

DOBBS: Congressman...

MILLER: ... or they're not in this country legally.

DOBBS: Congressman, in that regard, let's take a look at a statement from Wal-Mart today reacting to your call for an investigation and criticism of Wal-Mart.

"Congressman Miller has very strong ties to organized labor, and this is just another example of him trying to discredit us on their behalf, thinking people will see it for what it is."

Your reaction?

MILLER: Well, first of all, there's no organized labor in Wal- Mart. They can -- they don't have any unions in Wal-Mart. Organized labor gets nothing out of this.

This was brought to me by people in the Department of Labor that said there's something very wrong here when you look at the record of this employer, you look at the record of grievances against it.

And now they take this settlement where the -- you know, they don't admit or deny anything, but they settle for $135,000 and they bootstrap that into a nationwide agreement where they get first cut at the complaints of their employees.

DOBBS: Well, let me ask you this. Because we are in a situation in this country, in our economy, in our society in which corporate America -- and U.S. multinationals, in particular -- have unprecedented political power, influence in your party, influence in the Republican Party, domination on Capitol Hill and certainly the White House, organized labor is an impotent force by all measures here today. What countervailing influence is there for the middle class, for working men and women in this country period?

MILLER; Well, there's -- you know, there's public officials like myself who are concerned about the middle class, about their standard of living and their ability to have wages and hours and working conditions that allow them to support their familiar and provide health care and education.

There's labor organizations that watch out for these people. But, every time one of these labor organizations approaches a Wal- Mart, they fire the workers who are involved it. They make their life very difficult. We just saw, I believe it is in Canada, where they got a right to organize and Wal-Mart closed the whole store. So what chance do these people have? Now they have the inside track in the Department of Labor, the last independent party between Wal-Mart's employment practices and their employees, and that's now been taken away because the home office gets the first cut at your grievance. These are -- these people have no real protections in these jobs.

What does that tell them about filing a grievance, that people in the home office are going to look for this, they're going to tell your supervisor, your store manager, and they're going to come looking for you.

DOBBS: Congressman George Miller, we thank you for being here.

MILLER: It's not fair.

DOBBS: We'll follow, of course, the response from the inspector general, the Department of Labor to your call for an investigation. Thank you.

Posted by Nathan at February 16, 2005 08:23 AM