Walmart and the Walton Family: Making Your Workplace Less Safe

This week, contracted warehouse workers at warehouses that supply Walmart stores in California will complete a 50-mile, 6-day pilgrimage across Southern California.    The pilgrimage is designed to bring increased attention to the poor working conditions for these workers.    Chief among their concerns are the dangerous working conditions they face on a daily basis.[1]

Earlier this year, warehouse workers filed a complaint with the state of California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) detailing more than a dozen serious violations.  Cal/OSHA is the state agency responsible for protecting workers from safety hazards.[2]

In the complaint, workers describe a workplace rife with unsafe conditions including limited or no access to clean water, high temperatures, broken equipment, and unreasonable and unsafe quotas.  Workers report being blocked inside the trailers they are loading for up to 30 minutes with no exit.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated incident.    Walmart also has a troubling history of health and safety problems at stores.    In addition, Walmart and the Walton family (owners of Walmart) have been linked to efforts to undermine health and safety policy or to stop efforts to strengthen protections.

Walmart and the Walton Family have consistently been involved in efforts, over the past decade, to either undermine or prevent the strengthening of workplace health and safety laws.      They have pursued this agenda both by participating in organizations seeking to undermine these laws and by disproportionately funding elected officials who vote against strong worker safety policy.

Disproportionately Funding Politicians Who Vote Against Worker Safety

One of the most recent, important pieces of proposed Congressional legislation to address workplace safety was the Miner Safety and Health Act of 2010.     The bill was considered by the House Workforce and Education and Safety Committee and went to a vote in the House in December 2010, where it fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass, 214-193.[3]  From the 2002 cycle through June 2012, the members of Congress who voted against the bill received $2.5 million from the Walmart PAC.   The members who voted against the bill received twice as much from the Walmart PAC as those who voted for the bill.[4]    For the Walton Family, the contrast was even more stark.    The Waltons gave 34 times as much to House members who voted no as they gave to those who voted in favor of the bill.[5]

Walmart and the Walton Family Attempt to Undermine Health and Safety Laws, through membership in US Chamber of Commerce, the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)

The Chamber of Commerce has been active in supporting bills to weaken OSHA regulations,[6] and opposing attempts to strengthen OSHA. In 2004 and 2005 there were four OSHA reform bills that passed the House of Representatives.[7] While these bills claimed to assist small businesses in protecting workplace safety, in reality, they proposed exemptions from deadlines for employers to contest citations and attempted to shift the financial burden of appeals and litigation away from employers and on to taxpayers.

In the Congressional report on the bill, the Minority Views[8] included the observation:

What is at stake is not merely whether an employer will pay a monetary fine, but whether workers will have a safe and healthy workplace or be subject to injury, illness, and death. This legislation should be rejected.

RILA and US Chamber Oppose 2010 Effort to Strenghten Workplace Safety Laws

In 2010, both the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA)[9] and the US Chamber of Commerce (Walmart is a member of both organizations), actively opposed the effort to pass the Miner Safety and Health Act of 2010 which proposed to strengthen workplace and whistleblower protections and stiffen penalties under the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).[10] The bill was introduced in the aftermath of the Upper Big Branch coal mine tragedy where 29 of the 31 miners at the site were killed in an explosion. Walmart reported lobbying on the legislation as well.

ALEC and “Model Legislation” to Undermine Workplace Safety

Walmart and the Walton family have also been members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has also supported efforts to weaken workplace safety laws.     Although Walmart recently withdrew from ALEC in response to public pressure, the Walton Family Foundation apparently remains a member.   In 2000, the ALEC Board of Directors passed a resolution opposing OSHA’s proposed new ergonomics standards.[11]  In 2006, ALEC endorsed model legislation to make it harder for workers bringing a lawsuit regarding asbestos-related injuries to prevail.[12]  In 2009, ALEC endorsed model legislation that would make class action lawsuits more difficult.[13] [14]

Walmart Fails to Ensure Crowd Control During “Black Friday” Sale

Company Spends More than $2 Million to Fight $7,000 Fine by OSHA.   Fine upheld.

On “Black Friday, 2008”, a Walmart employee was trampled to death at a Walmart store.    The employee, who received no crowd control training, was asked to help control a crowd estimated at 2,000.[15]     Walmart was later cited by OSHA and assessed a fine of just $7,000.    Despite the small fine, Walmart mounted an aggressive defense and OSHA estimated that the company spent more than $2 million.   In 2011, an administrative law judge upheld the fine against the company, finding both that the crowds were a recognized hazard and that the company could have done more to protect employees and the public.[16]

2012: Walmart cited for “repeat and serious” health and safety violations[17]

In January and June, 2012, the Occupational Health and Safety Authority cited Walmart for “repeat and serious violations of workplace safety standards” at two Supercenters in Upstate New York.     Specifically, OSHA cited blocked exits and aisles, electrical hazards and improperly installed fire extinguishers.  In this case, OSHA had previously cited Wal-Mart for similar hazards at stores in Newington, Conn.; Chelmsford and West Boylston, Mass.; Centralia, Jerseyville and Joliet, Ill.; Coshocton, Ohio; Lewisville, Texas; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Fargo, North Dakota; Festus, Missouri; Plant City, Florida; and Mobile, Alabama.


[4] Analysis of data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

[5] Analysis of data from the Center for Responsive Politics.






[15] Crush Point, by John Seabrook  The New Yorker, February 7, 2011

What do you think?