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Wal-Mart’s War on Pregnant Workers

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Given that Wal-Mart’s business model is borrowed heavily from the supply chain management system pioneered by the same textile industry that brought you the Triangle Fire and Rana Plaza collapse, it’s hardly surprising that the company would then import the intimidation of pregnant women so common in Mexican maquiladoras and south Asian apparel factories. Wal-Mart could treat women with respect. But then it only does that with a group of workers it if makes for good PR:

After all, pregnant women are at the final analysis socially valuable and morally distinct as a category of person. They ensure the ongoing life of society, and do so at personal cost: sometimes great, sometimes minor. If Wal-Mart is willing to recognize the moral significance of veterans in those terms, why not pregnant women? The answer in that case would be to simply recognize pregnancy as a discrete category worthy of its own set of special labor protections not because pregnant workers offer any extra utility, but simply because pregnancy is a morally significant vocation.

And it won’t happen. Not because it couldn’t, but because Wal-Mart won’t sacrifice potential profit for the social value or moral import of a person unless it can be turned into a P.R. stunt. There is a reason that when Pope Francis speaks of a culture of death he also often speaks of economies of exclusion; the preference for profit over people and material objects over human life is a symptom of the melding of the two impulses, which are joined by a similar extreme undervaluing of life. Firms and the economy as a whole are here to serve humanity, not to be served by it; to reverse that order is to invite incredible harm, and Wal-Mart is in many senses the very manifestation of that injurious reversal.

And let’s face it, women workers will never offer the PR that a company like Wal-Mart wants because they are not valued highly enough in the broader society. Instead, Wal-Mart continues the exploitation of women workers that has marked low-wage industrial and now post-industrial work for two centuries.

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  • Humpty Dumpty

    I like the essay you linked to very much. Speaking as a woman who was formerly pregnant I’d applaud societal recognition–with more than mere lip service–of the absolute moral value to society of pregnant women. But I’d also like to add that all the workers, regardless of their reproductive status or their gender, deserve to be treated as morally valuable to society and to their fellow citizens. Just because Walmart and other corporations attend to a bottom line in which all workers are completely disposable doesn’t mean that as a society we should permit or encourage that. On the contrary we should push back against the idea that our responsibility as a society ends where corporate responsibility leaves off. The Veterans didn’t get their special dispensation from Walmart because they actually are recognized as morally significant–they got their special dispensation because Michelle Obama and the Government pushed hard and probably got Walmart financial incentives to hire them.

    • Aimai

      Damn, that was me. Nym fail. Also,Humpty, though an egg, was male.

      I’d like to see Government contracts and ability to accept food stamps as payment linked to “good worker policies” that might include things like “retention of elderly, disabled, or pregnant workers” over time. Any corporate policy that pushes people out of the work force, or harms them physically, should be punished or made unprofitable.

  • jim, some guy in iowa

    it’s just kind of amazing how few actual living breathing empathetic flesh and blood people are included in the 1%

  • GoDeep

    One of the worst (& unfortunately lingering) drawbacks to the GWOT has been our elevation of the military over everything else, incl. the well-being of those responsible for giving soc’y life.

    Supply chain mgmt need not diminish human dignity to return a positive ROI.

  • DrDick

    If Walmart had any interest in promoting social value and moral worth, they would not pay mots of their “full-time” workers so little that they qualify for welfare.

  • ChrisTS

    What I found puzzling about the stories of pregnant workers at WalMart was the pointlessness of their mistreatment. How could giving someone a bit of rest time, or allowing her to sit while doing some work, etc. really seriously affect their bottom line? It struck me simply as mean spirited harassment.

    • Aimai

      Over at alicublog they were making fun of some stupid NRO piece attacking women for pouting alla time about their treatment in the workplace like it was some “kafkasque, dystopian, nightmare” or something. But you get the sense reading about places like this that they are, in fact, kafkaesque, dystopian, nightmares of pointless humiliations and petty brutalities that, in the end, are done for their own sake, to demoralize and fracture the work force.

      • Lee Rudolph

        Well, they’re not done only for their own sake: I’m sure they’re also a way to give the managerial staff at the stores a little extra pleasure to tide them over in their own fairly Kafkaesque, dystopian, nightmares.

        • Guest

          This.

        • Lee,
          I think you nailed it!

          Shit rolls downhill.
          THEY get shit upon by their ruthless uncompassionate bosses, so they’re looking for someone else to shit on.

          And you sure as hell can’t do that to one of your bosses!
          Ok, you can. But it’ll be the last shit you take at your shitty job – and may find it hard to find another shitty job.

          • demz taters

            A willingness to push the shit downhill is one of the prerequisites for promotion to management in too many American workplaces. Display a zeal for it and you’ll really go far.

            • hylen

              And this.

        • GoDeep

          Its shocking how petty ppl can be over pure bs. Just plain spiteful. My sister recently got fired from her job as a school bus driver for no other reason than she got her bus stuck in the mud. The boss got her kicks just fucking w/ ppl. Some ppl get off on bs like that.

          • DrS

            #genuinelaughter

            Thanks GD

        • ChrisTS

          Yes,. To the dismay of my left ventricle, I believe this is what it’s all about. “I suffer; therefore, you must suffer more.”

          • ChrisTS

            ETA: When I was a few years in at my current college, some of the older faculty would moan about how the younger people should be made to ‘pay their dues’ by being treated badly.

            It was basically, “I had a bad time so now you should.” And, these were educated, fairly privileged people in definitely not-awful positions.

            • Aimai

              Isn’t it rather a fiction that older faculty “had it so bad?” I mean–at least the generation of faculty who were old when I was in graduate school had it absolutely fantastic. They had funding galore, new Universities and new Departments opening up all the time, lots of departments still had secretaries for faculty or money for people to hire their own secretaries. The men who were married often had non working spouses who could serve as their editors and also raise their children for them on a single high salary. I’m pretty sure that isn’t academia as the younger professors knew it when I was in graduate school, especially the women, but until about twenty years ago it hasn’t been the boot camp experience that medical school was.

              • Murc

                I’m pretty sure “bad” is a relative term. What they probably mean is “I had to suck up to a lot of people to get tenure, I had to teach four classes a semester on top of doing research, and I had little say in departmental policy.”

                This is as opposed to, say, doctors and lawyers, who as freshmen in their professions really do have to do things like pull 100 hour workweeks for no recognition and low pay and sacrifice any semblance of a family or social life.

                • dk

                  Actually, 4 classes per semester plus “good” research productivity IS a 100 hour workweek.

                  But thanks for your input.

                • pshh

                  only counts as hard work if it is billable

            • Hogan

              Hazing.

      • Tristan

        Seriously, what do people think Kafka was writing about?

        • Tristan

          Too pissed to wait for my other comment to get out of moderation:

          “There are not nearly as many bestsellers about the struggles of working fathers, magazine covers asking “Can Men Have It All?”, daddy blogs with passionate arguments and comments sections aflame”

          RICH DAD POOR DAD YOU FUCKING MORON

          I need to go watch a movie or something, I seriously can not believe how fucking angry this is making me.

    • N__B

      If you give a pregnant woman a break, you set a precedent that the reality of the human condition may allow for changes in the work routine. This would potentially lower profits and WHY DO YOU HATE AMERICA?

      • JL

        In addition, you acknowledge that both pregnancy and paid work are normal (not universal, obviously, but not some kind of weird fluke or special case) parts of the human condition, such that the same person might engage in both of them at some point. This is a problem for a lot of people who just don’t think that pregnant people should engage in paid work or that when they ask for understanding of their situation they are being overentitled snowflakes.

        • N__B

          both pregnancy and paid work are normal parts of the human condition

          Well sure, if you’re going to get all crazy and say that women are people.

      • ChrisTS

        I do hate the part of America that actually would think like this. I really hate that it seems to be an ever-growing part of America.

    • malraux

      Well, remember that the walmart staffing is designed to have everyone working all the time. The reason there are always lines at the checkout/too few cashiers is to prevent anyone from having even a minute of incidental downtime.

  • Karen

    In ancient Sparta, the only people who got tombstones were men who died in battle and women who died in childbirth. When we have fallen below ancient Greece in our treatment of pregnant women, we really have failed as a society.

    • Anonymous

      That’s barbarous, not worthy of praise, Karen.

      • Karen

        I wasn’t praising Sparta. I was using that to demonstrate that even they thought pregnancy merited recognition by society.

        • N__B

          “Even the liberal Spartans…”

          • Tristan

            To the dismay of some on the Lethe

  • Assistant Professor

    Pro-life conservatives…

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