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Wal-Mart Challenged on Women’s Pay

WASHINGTON — Wal-Mart chief executive officer Lee Scott might not be a mother, but a group of lawmakers signed a Mother’s Day card imploring him to better compensate the company’s nearly 700,000 women...

WASHINGTON — Wal-Mart chief executive officer Lee Scott might not be a mother, but a group of lawmakers signed a Mother’s Day card imploring him to better compensate the company’s nearly 700,000 women employees.

“Everyone here knows that Wal-Mart provides its customers with low prices,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.) told a press conference here Tuesday. “Wal-Mart is offering these low prices on the backs of mothers and their families.”

DeLauro said the retailer’s low prices also are also subsidized by taxpayers through programs such as Medicaid that pick up where Wal-Mart’s health benefits leave off. Citing a University of California study, she said female hourly employees at Wal-Mart make 40 cents less an hour than their male counterparts.

“Wal-Mart does not pay women what they are worth,” said DeLauro, calling on the company to disclose its wage statistics for congressional review.

The company declined to comment on the card or the claim that it underpays women.

DeLauro, along with Reps. George Miller (D., Calif.), Linda Sanchez (D., Calif.), Hilda Solis (D., Calif.) and Jan Schakowsky (D., Ill.), signed the 8-foot-tall card, which asked Scott to “Stop discriminating against women.” The card is part of WakeUpWalmart.com’s “Love Mom, not Wal-Mart” initiative. The group is asking Americans to sign a pledge to not buy a Mother’s Day gift at Wal-Mart. Also on hand were Linda Chavez-Thompson, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO, and former Miss America Carolyn Sapp.

“None of us here wants to see Wal-Mart fail as a company,” said Miller. “On the contrary, what we want is to see Wal-Mart succeed in a socially responsible way, with employees who are fairly compensated, without accelerating the flow of U.S. jobs overseas, and with a respect for the law and for workers’ basic rights.”

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer with sales in excess of $285 billion, is the target of the largest-ever class-action gender discrimination lawsuit, encompassing more than 1 million current and former employees. Women make up 72 percent of Wal-Mart’s workforce.

The press conference was the latest salvo in what has become a series of public relations battles for Wal-Mart. In February, the retailer paid a $136,000 fine to settle a child labor suit. The company also regularly faces opposition in its efforts to break into new territory, such as the company’s recent attempt to open a store in New York City.

Wal-Mart has retaliated by trying to better communicate its case, in part, through an advertising campaign that emphasizes its role in the community.

The spotlight on Wal-Mart dovetails with the Paycheck Fairness Act, which DeLauro introduced last week. The act would buttress existing laws with training programs for employers and workers that are aimed at leveling paychecks and by allowing women to sue for punitive damages under the Equal Pay Act. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D., N.Y.) introduced companion legislation in the Senate.