WalMart ramps up PR in face of Supreme Court discrimination suit
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04/13/11 Kelly Benjamin
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WalMart has launched a nationwide ad campaign that critics say is aimed at offsetting declining sales and bad press generated by a class action discrimination lawsuit now in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. This comes as a remodeled WalMart store in Tampa held an official ceremony today to unveil its expansion to include 188,000 square feet and a full line of groceries.

With flair provided by the MacDill Air Force Base color guard and an invocation by the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Tampa, WalMart unveiled their new super store today on Dale Mabry Highway at I-275.

"We've added 60 thousand square feet to the building to incorporate a full line of food and groceries to the building."

That's store manager Brooks McGhee. He says that the new expanded big box building incorporates environmentally friendly features and will create several more jobs in the area.

"We've actually created a 175 additioal jobs as of today. We're still in need of 63 more positions to fill."

Jobs and job conditions at WalMart have been a hot topic recently. The US Supreme Court is considering a class action lawsuit alleging that female employees are not treated fairly by the company. Elizabeth Lawrence is an attorney representing the plaintiffs in Dukes v. WalMart Stores.

"A group of women have come together to claim that WalMart is discriminating against women in terms of both promotion and pay. That there is a strong culture at WalMart that prefers the promotion of men into managerial positions and that there is strong statistical evidence that shows that women are paid less than men at every stage of their employment despite their evaluations, despite their years of experience."

Aside from discrimination, WalMart has also been criticized for years for the kinds of jobs they are creating in communities. Will O'Neill is with WalMart Watch, an organization that seeks to hold WalMart accountable for its corporate policies in relation to impact on communities and the American workforce.

"Florida certainly needs jobs, there's no question about that but the jobs that WalMart creates are poverty level jobs. Any way that you slice it, these are jobs that keep people below the poverty level. There's one report on their wages that someone that's a cashier is going to be making about $15,500 a year in total take home pay. These are jobs that are below the poverty level. If we want actual economic growth in Florida, if we want people buying homes again, if we want people to be able to send their kids to college to make a better life for themselves, these aren't the types of jobs that are going to spur economic growth and advancement."

WalMart's media relations did not return calls for comment on this story, but Tampa store manager Brooks McGhee says WalMart treats its employees just fine.

"It's a great place to work...I started from the bottom. I started stocking groceries and worked by way up through the ladder and it's been a pleasant experience."

As part of the the relaunch ceremony today, WalMart sent out press releases touting thousands of dollars in grants given to local charitable organizations. WalMart Watch's O'Neil says that's more about PR and cleaning up it's image than charity.

"This isn't necessarily charitable giving, this is public relations and marketing. This is image management for WalMart to clean up the image that they've really made for themselves over the years by treating workers poorly and by having negative impacts on communities."

Despite that image, shoppers today at WalMart seemed more concerned with convenience and cheap prices than low pay or discrimination.

"I think it's amazing, yes, yes, it's wonderful, now that's it's a Super WalMart, I'll do all my shopping here!"

Funding for this story came from the community at Spot.us

Previous WMNF news coverage on WalMart

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