Wal-Mart… mounted an aggressive defense to overturn the $7,000 fine, causing OSHA officials to complain that the company had spent more than $2 million on legal fees in the case. OSHA officials said federal employees had to devote more than 4,700 hours of legal work in response to Wal-Mart’s effort to block the $7,000 fine.
New York Times, 3/25/2011
Last week, both the New York Times and the Columbia Journalism Review reported on Wal-Mart’s extraordinary efforts to avoid a 7,000 fine from OSHA in relation to a trampling death at one of its stores on New York’s Long Island on Black Friday 2008. The CJR piece (and the Times piece to some extent) express surprise at Wal-Mart’s intense opposition, which seems more about a “brush back pitch to Department of Labor” in the words of CJR.
It’s not actually that surprising to those of us who work at Arise-Chicago. Over and over employers go to extreme means to avoid accepting responsibility for workplace justice violations, including spending 2, 3, or even 10 times more on lawyers than the amount of back wages they owe a worker. The culture of irresponsibility and recklessness that supposedly marks the urban underclass better describes corporate America from top to bottom then any “ghetto” neighborhood in the inner cities of America. A toxic mix of pride and stubborn refusal to accept any regulation on business behavior seems to put so many employers we interact with at Arise-Chicago into full Clint Eastwood get off my lawn mode when it comes to accepting responsibility for their actions.
As these articles show, this starts from the top, with large corporations and their political arms fighting any meaningful regulation that supports workers. Unfortunately, this seems to be the one area where trickle down actually works. Large corporations’ efforts to eviscerate regulatory agencies doesn’t just matter for those who work at those companies, but washes through the rest of the economy, in much the same way the union density can benefit non-union workers’ wages and working conditions. Wage theft and other workplace violations are often framed as being about the individual greed for profits, racism against immigrant workers, or bad apples in a poor economic climate, but our experience at Arise and these articles seem to indicate is that it’s about the pure, naked, prideful abuse of power.