Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Lawyers filed a class-action suit against Wal-Mart yesterday in New Jersey, saying it violated federal racketeering laws by conspiring with cleaning contractors to cheat immigrant janitors out of wages.

The suit, in Federal District Court in Newark, seeks to represent thousands of workers who washed and waxed floors nightly in Wal-Mart department stores. It says the company and its contractors violated RICO, the Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act, by conspiring not to pay the workers overtime. The suit says the cleaners at hundreds of stores generally earned $325 to $500 for working seven nights a week, usually for 56 hours or more each week.

The case was filed 18 days after federal agents raided 60 stores in 21 states to round up 250 janitors described as illegal immigrants. Last week, executives at Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, acknowledged that federal prosecutors had sent a target letter saying the company faced a grand jury investigation over the immigrants.

"This case is about the most powerful and richest company in the world taking obscene advantage of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world," said a lawyer filing the suit yesterday, James L. Linsey.

Let's be honest; this isn't the one that takes down the evil empire. They've got too many lawyers and the public has too short a memory for this thing to have legs, despite the best efforts of fine rags like The Times. But I have to admit feeling some small satisfaction that W-M's facade is getting broken down bit by bit. Maybe by the time I'm ready to kick up my heels and scramble into the great beyond, they'll be done with.

Suddenly, I am blessed with the image of my hands locked around the collective neck of Wal-Mart's B of D, tumbling all of us into a nice, deep grave.

It's a bit late. You'll have to excuse me.

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