WASHINGTON — Wal-Mart had a bad day in the nation’s capital Wednesday, including being hit with a $3.1 million Environmental Protection Agency fine.
Downtown, a group of Wal-Mart detractors huddled behind closed doors at a union headquarters in what one organizer called a “brainstorming session” to share information about the discount giant’s market power and its effects on U.S. wages, communities and health care.
The EPA said the world’s largest retailer would pay a civil penalty of $3.1 million to settle charges of mismanaged storm-water runoff at 24 building sites in nine states.
This was Wal-Mart’s second such citation. In 2001, the chain paid a $1 million fine and was required to develop a storm-water runoff prevention program with its contractors for violations at 17 sites in multiple states, the EPA said.
The recent settlement renews the EPA’s call for Wal-Mart to have stronger oversight of its 150 building contractors through an “aggressive compliance program,” the agency said.
Wal-Mart’s director of corporate communications, Gus Whitcomb, said in a statement that the company “will begin implementing new measures at our construction sites and sincerely hopes to be a trendsetter in environmental compliance moving forward.”
Meanwhile, the confab of Wal-Mart detractors was spearheaded by United Food & Commercial Workers Union president Jim Hansen, who took the helm of the 1.4 million-member union earlier this year. The UFCW for several years has been working to organize the discount chain’s workers, which it claims Wal-Mart has strongly resisted.
Hansen “wanted to broaden the discussion of Wal-Martization,” said Greg Denier, an assistant to Hansen and UFCW communications director, pointing to an issue being highlighted by a growing cottage industry of Wal-Mart watchers among organized labor, academics and community activists, all of which were represented at the meeting.
In a statement, participants in the meeting said its purpose was “to begin a dialogue on how to reverse the negative course that companies like Wal-Mart have on workers and communities and how to hold big corporations accountable for the negative impact on the American economy.”
The Wal-Mart critics said they also want “to encourage Wal-Mart and similar companies to improve their corporate behavior in two crucial areas: working with communities where they are located or considering locating and providing better-paying jobs with benefits, especially health care.”
Wal-Mart did not respond to request for comment.
— Joanna Ramey