As a mother, grandmother and now even great-grandmother I have lots of shopping I want to do for this holiday season. This is a busy time of year and there is much I'd love to buy. Like many others, I don't have enough money to do it all, so I have to think before I shop.
I have to think about what to buy and where to shop. Good quality and affordable price are major considerations but they are not the only important things. I want my choices to be for the good of my family and my community, and women are an incredibly important part of my community.
So, despite the lure of low prices, I'm joining other women in Seattle on Thursday to urge shoppers to think before they shop at Wal-Mart.
I won't be shopping at Wal-Mart because Wal-Mart really is bad for women.
Of course, discrimination against women is common in corporate America and I can't guarantee that every place I shop treats women well. But Wal-Mart is the world's largest employer and one of the worst abusers of its women employees in the U.S.
It isn't just that Wal-Mart doesn't pay a living wage; it's that they pay women even less than men in the same positions. Women make up more than 70 percent of Wal-Mart's hourly employees but less than one-third of its store management. Only one of its top 20 officers is a woman. And, in 2001, the few women who become managers earned $14,500 less than their male counterparts. Women hourly workers earned $1,100 less than men. These are a few of the reasons Wal-Mart is the subject of the largest class-action suit ever in this country. The lawsuit represents more than 1.5 million present and past employees of Wal-Mart and its affiliate, Sam's Club.
It goes beyond that. This year, Wal-Mart instituted a salary cap on its employees so they can only earn so much. Wal-Mart now uses more part-time workers. If you work fewer than 34 hrs/week, you have to wait a year before being eligible for health insurance and, even then, your children cannot be included in the coverage. Full-time employees have to wait 180 days before they become eligible for health benefits. That's six months before you or your children can go to a doctor for any reason, even an emergency. Should a woman be one of the lucky ones who is eligible, and can afford to buy the insurance, she will learn that her health plan does not cover contraception.
We women are the shoppers in this country. In particular we are the ones who are most likely responsible for buying the basics -- food, clothing, shoes, school supplies, toilet paper and toys. These are the things Wal-Mart sells. If I choose to save money on each item by shopping at a Wal-Mart where the woman waiting on me can't afford day care, health care, food or even the contraceptives that might keep her family from growing larger than she can support, I am hurting her and a lot of other women. That is not good for me, my family or my community.
I know most of the women working at Wal-Mart are thankful they have a job, even one that underpays and possibly mistreats them. That is no reason for us to sit back and let the abuse continue.
Together, we can change Wal-Mart. Please think before you shop. You can learn about NOW work at http://www.now.org/issues/wfw/wal-mart.html
Thalia Syracopoulos is a member of the board of the Seattle chapter of the National Organization for Women.
© 1998-2006 Seattle Post-Intelligencer