Women’s groups, union attack Wal-Mart

October 5, 2011

Several prominent women’s groups joined with organized labor Wednesday to call on Walmart to improve pay for its female workers after the U.S. Supreme Court banned employees from moving forward with a class-action lawsuit alleging sex discrimination.

The groups, which include the National Organization for Women, said that the retailer — the country’s largest private-sector employer — should review its pay scale to ensure that women are being compensated fairly and that managers are not discriminating against female employees. They also called on the company to establish a scheduling system that helps women juggling work and family commitments.

“Walmart can be a place for opportunity and equity for women and set a standard for employers nationwide,” said Judith L. Lichtman, senior adviser for the National Partnership for Women and Families.

Walmart, however, called the effort a “publicity stunt” and said more than half of the hourly workers promoted over the past year were women. Last month, it pledged to spend billions of dollars during the next five years to train female workers around the globe and support women-owned businesses.

“Walmart has a long history of providing advancement opportunities for our female associates and, over the years, we’ve had a positive impact on the lives of women in the U.S. and around the world,” company spokesman Lorenzo Lopez said in a statement.

The women’s groups said their movement was spurred by a lawsuit filed a decade ago that alleged the company systematically paid women less than men and passed them over for promotions. In June, the Supreme Court blocked the suit from receiving class-action status but did not rule on whether individual workers had suffered discrimination.

On Wednesday, the women’s groups said that many of the practices described in the lawsuit continue.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union said it expects to meet with Walmart analysts in the company’s home town of Bentonville, Ark., next week during the company’s annual investor conference to discuss working conditions.

Ylan Q. Mui is a financial reporter at The Washington Post covering the Federal Reserve and the economy.
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