NEW YORK (AP) — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is being slapped with a lawsuit that claims that the world's largest retailer and its staffing agencies broke federal minimum wage and overtime laws by requiring temporary workers to appear early for work, stay late to complete work and work through lunches and breaks without compensation.
According to the proposed class action suit that was filed Monday in the U.S. District Court of Illinois Eastern Division, Labor Ready and QPS, two of the staffing agencies that the discounter used in the Chicago area, failed to provide workers assigned to the Wal-Mart stores with required employment information.
The suit also claims that Wal-Mart itself failed to keep accurate records of workers' time. That has made it difficult for workers to make claims that they were not paid by the temporary agencies for all hours worked. The suit also claims that the discounter and its staffing agencies also failed to pay the plaintiffs and others in similar situations a minimum of four hours pay on days when they were contracted for work, but not used for a minimum of four hours as required by Illinois law. That prevented the workers from looking for other jobs.
"I only get paid minimum wage and yet Labor Ready and Wal-Mart still try to cheat me by not paying me for the time I actually work," said Twanda Burk, the primary plaintiff on the lawsuit. "I've proven that I'm a good worker, and they just want to take advantage of that."
According to information provided by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union in a press release promoting the legal action, the alleged violations occurred beginning in early 2009 and continue up until the present time.
The suit seeks all unpaid wages for the workers and calls for an injunction against Wal-Mart and its temporary agencies preventing them from future violations of state labor laws.
Dan Fogleman, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said that the company is still reviewing the complaint but that based on the release sent out Monday by the union group one thing is clear: "This litigation is being driven by the same union organizations that have been mischaracterizing several issues about Wal-Mart and are more concerned with creating publicity than with improving workers' rights."
He continued, "We are committed to ensuring that anyone working in our stores — whether they're employed by Wal-Mart or in this case, a temporary staffing agency — is treated appropriately and compensated fairly for every hour they work."
Diane Gadzalinski, QPS's director of human resources, said she is currently reviewing the matter. Labor Ready didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
The suit comes just after Wal-Mart faced a worker walk-out earlier this month ahead of its annual investor meeting that expanded to about dozen states. Still, the number of employees involved was less than 200, according to union officials. That's a tiny fraction of Wal-Mart's U.S. workforce of 1.3 million workers at its namesake division. A group called Organization United for Respect at Walmart, or OUR Walmart, organized the walk-outs. The organization, which is made up of current and former Wal-Mart workers, is backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.
OUR Walmart, which is pressing for better working conditions, is organizing a group of Wal-Mart workers to walk out from their jobs on the day after Thanksgiving, the busiest day of the year.
Shares of Wal-Mart ended regular trading up 3 cents at $75.65 Monday, close to the top of its 52-week range of $55.68 and $77.60. Shares have risen 26 percent since the beginning of the year amid a rebounding business in its U.S. namesake division.
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