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Who isn't against Wal-Mart?

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Wal-Mart just can't seem to do anything right. It has now been caught trying to "pull a fast one" on its consumers.

Consumers against Wal-Mart

Its Wisconsin stores have been fined $25,000, settling allegations that the giant retailer overcharged customers for bulk items, including sweet potatoes, grapes and grind-it-yourself coffee. [Business Week Online] reports that "Jim Rabbit, director of the consumer protection division of the state department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, said that "This particular problem...is something very few consumers ever have the ability to notice or test."

Two studies commissioned by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union released in November found that the super centers charged the wrong prices to shoppers in the Midwest and California, "at a rate that exceeds federal guidelines."

Getting caught most likely surprised Wal-Mart. They probably figured if they couldn't get away with lowering their rates, they should just raise them. Remember when they got caught five years ago?

In 2000, Wal-Mart was charged with illegally cutting prices to ward off competitors at its stores in Wisconsin, reports the [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online].

Those crafty merchandisers will do anything for a buck, or a few billion.

Two Workers against Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart's most vocal critics have been Wake-Up Wal-Mart, funded by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. It says that Wal-Mart needs to increase wages and benefits to its workers.

Roseann Tancordo, from Manville, NJ and Janelle Dickerson from Seattle, hope their day will come in court with Wal-Mart, for several labour disputes.

Tancordo is a diabetic and was hired by Wal-Mart to work in its snack bar. "They weren't giving us breaks and lunches on time. Sometimes I never got a break or lunch because only two of us were on shift so I was basically working by myself," she says.
"I had low blood sugar and asked one of the cashiers in front if she could cover my break."

"They all said no, so I bought a can of Spaghetti off the shelf, took it back to the snack bar and ate it," she says. A few days later, one of the assistant managers asked if she had been eating behind the counter. "I explained the situation, that I had to buy a can of food." The verdict: she was suspended without pay for one week. She went back into the store a week later and had a meeting with the manager (who was on holiday the previous week). He asked the same thing of Tancordo and she told him the same explanation. His reply: "We have to terminate you."

Tancordo has documentation from the store that she did not receive a lunch break. In an eight hour work day she only got a 15 minute break, two hours into her shift. And even with this proof, she was fired. And of course she has medical records that she is a diabetic.

"I filed for unemployment right after this incident and Wal-Mart denied my claim," she says. Tancordo had worked for Wal-Mart for 18 months. She qualified for benefits. She appealed in her local unemployment office and was finally covered. But she hasn't received any compensation for loss of work or working through her lunch breaks.

"A lot of times we went to work we wouldn't get our lunch breaks," says Janelle Dickerson. "They just asked us if we could stay on the floor. We never got paid any overtime. They used to take money out of our pay cheques for [Wal-Mart] stocks." On a potential employee's application form Wal-Mart asks if you want to be part of their stocks and bonds program. "And each week they took a portion of your pay, but I didn't get any of my money back," says Dickerson. "Once you leave it all disappears in their system. You just get deleted out of their stocks and bonds - it is a gimmick."

Dickerson asked to be compensated in 2001. "Chuck, my manager, said he would look into it. I called again, and the same answer. I worked full-time for five months, and they took about $20 a week," she says.

She also worked unpaid overtime. "Then when the store was closed after hours they asked us to stay and stock the shelves and do inventory. Management would lock us in for up to two hours. We had to stay on the floor, in our ninth and 10th hours. I was four months pregnant at the time, so I quit."

Tancordo and Dickerson better get in line. It's going to be a long one.

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