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1999-07-01
Cleveland Heights, OH. Wal-Mart Humiliates Workers

It's 9:30 pm on the night of June 11, 1999 at the Severance Town Center Wal-Mart store in Cleveland Heights, OH. The store manager gets on the public address system and announces that all workers in the store are to come to the front of the store for a meeting. Once assembled, the "associates" are told that $3,000 is missing from the cash registers. According to Graham Robinson, a Wal-Mart employee, the store manager "informed us that some money was missing, and he wanted to give the alleged person or persons a chance to turn in the money, with no questions asked, no disciplinary actions, and no repercussions." The meeting ends, and the workers go back to their departments to close down. But no one steps forward with the missing money. So the manager has the store searched. Then the manager orders 37 workers taken to the restrooms to be searched. According to what Robinson told The Cleveland Plain Dealer, "I was asked to open my pants to see if I had money stuffed in my underwear. I emptied my pockets and took off my shoes. It was humiliating and embarrassing." Robinson said his bosses asked him to drop his trousers and empty his pockets. Female workers were asked to open their work smocks, empty their purses, and turn their pockets inside out. No one was actually strip searched, according to the public account. "We were asked to stand in line while Cleveland Heights police were standing outside the customer service departments," Robinson said. After the incident, Robinson retained a lawyer to represent him. "These people were not just suspects. They were accused," attorney Rufus Sims told the Plain Dealer. Wal-Mart has admitted that two managers involved in the incident were fired, and an assistant manager was suspended. Wal-Mart said the managers and assistants violated company policy by rounding up workers and patting them down. "We do not condone that at all," Wal-Mart said about the search. Wal-Mart even went so far as to send someone from its "home office" to apologize to the 37 workers involved in the affair. To make matters worse, the managers and assistants who took part in the search were all white, and the employees who were forced to submit to a search were all black. "This action was wrong and race-based," said Attorney Sims. "There was no evidence or indication they did anything wrong...The workers just happened to be African-American." Sims claims that white employees who were in the store at the time were not searched.

What you can do: If the workers at Wal-Mart felt humiliated, Wal-Mart was the one that was even more humiliated by this event. After all, Wal-Mart is the company that bases its employee relations on the statement "respect for the individual". "We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind," says the Wal-Mart employee manual. "Not only is discrimination against our beliefs, it's against the law." But, as one Wal-Mart employee wrote to me: "At Wal-Mart they say they have respect for the individual. Well, I'm still waiting to meet that individual, because I sure got no respect."










 
 
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