Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Wal-Mart in the Red

Today's New York Times highlights the latest evidence of political favoritism to Wal-Mart, a major corporate contributor to the Republicans and the Bush administration.

The Bush Labor Department entered into an agreement with Wal-Mart to give them 15 days notice before they conduct inspections for child labor law violations--- after Wal-Mart was caught violating those laws eighty-five times.

Wal-Mart also got to help write the agreement, and the press release announcing it.

Here's the lead:

The Labor Department's inspector general strongly criticized department officials yesterday for "serious breakdowns" in procedures involving an agreement promising Wal-Mart Stores 15 days' notice before labor investigators would inspect its stores for child labor violations.

The report by the inspector general faulted department officials for making "significant concessions" to Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer, without obtaining anything in return. The report also criticized department officials for letting Wal-Mart lawyers write substantial parts of the settlement and for leaving the department's own legal division out of the settlement process.

Why was the Labor Department involved in the first place? Because it found 85 child labor violations at Wal-Mart stories in three states. These included children under 18 operating chain saws and carboard balers.

In addition to paying less that a hundred and fifty thousand dollars in fines (while not admitting wrongdoing) Wal-Mart got this incredible deal as part of its SETTLEMENT.

And that ain't all:

In addition to allowing the 15-day notice, the agreement lets Wal-Mart avoid civil citations and fines if it brings a store into compliance within 10 days of when the department notifies it of a violation.

In exchange for these concessions, the inspector general wrote, there was "little commitment from the employer beyond what it was already doing or required to do by law."

He also found that: "the Wal-Mart agreement may adversely impact W.H.D.'s authority to conduct future investigations and issue citations or penalty assessments, and potentially restrict information to the public."

And that that agreement "had the most far-reaching restriction" on the government's "authority to conduct investigations and assess" fines.

While the Labor Department said that the advance notification provisions applied only to child labor matters, the inspector general asserted that "the plain language of the advance notification clause applies to any potential violations, not just child labor violations."

The inspector general's even suggested that the Labor Department consulted with Wal-Mart on their news release on the settlement, which the department denied. However, their announcement came a month after the agreement was reached, and only after it was were leaked to a newspaper.

So was this at least a case of the Labor Department's inspector general doing his job? Not exactly. He looked into the matter at the specific request of U.S. Representative George Miller, California Democrat. According to the Times, Miller said:

the report showed that the Bush administration was seeking to do favors for a powerful friend and a major Republican contributor in Wal-Mart.

"The Bush Labor Department chose to do an unprecedented favor for Wal-Mart, despite the fact it is well known for violating labor laws, including child labor laws," Mr. Miller said. "The sweetheart deal put Wal-Mart employees at risk, undermined government effectiveness, and further undermined public confidence that the government is acting on its behalf."

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