Tuesday, December 23, 2008
The New York Times, in an article co-authored by Stephen Greenhouse, is reporting that Wal-Mart (who else?) has just agreed to a $352 million or more settlement over off-the-clock claims. We've reported on some previous big Wal-Mart settlements, but this one is huge--and reported to be the largest wage and hour settlement in history. According to the NY Times:
After years of being embarrassed by lawsuits over its wage practices, the company agreed to settle 63 cases pending in federal and state courts in 42 states. The workers and their lawyers will receive at least $352 million, and the payments could reach $640 million, depending on how many claims affected workers submit. . . . The newly settled cases involved hundreds of thousands of current and former hourly employees. It is unclear how much the average employee will receive, but the sum could be several hundred dollars. . . .
The dozens of wage-and-hour suits against Wal-Mart accused the company and its managers of various illegal tactics. Those included forcing employees to work unpaid off the clock, erasing hours from time cards and preventing workers from taking lunch and other breaks that were promised by the company or guaranteed by state laws.
The settlement — which wipes out all but 12 pending wage-and-hour lawsuits against Wal-Mart — also gives the company a cleaner slate as a new administration enters the White House. President-elect Barack Obama has indicated he will make wage-and-hour enforcement a priority, and groups critical of Wal-Mart suggested that the company had reached the settlement to avoid becoming a target of stepped-up enforcement. . . .
The article does a nice job trying to put the settlement in context, including some people's thoughts that the amount isn't as significant as some recent jury verdicts that Wal-Mart has faced. Even if true, this is a real victory for the employees involved. Although it would have been far better if they had gotten paid what they deserved at the time, even a delayed and partial payment is better than nothing and probably much appreciated during these economic times.