The ability of any organization to proactively identify labor relations conflicts and address them within the framework of the existing legislations creates a better platform for greater cooperation, more effective organization culture and higher profits sustainability. Unlike during the classic period, modern organizations regard their employees as the most critical components in policies implementation and objectives realization. However, Wal-Mart gender discrimination conflict is strongly threatening its internal operations efficiency and damaging its external image. The Dukes versus Wal-Mart case is one of the largest labor relations conflict that has expanded to over 1.5 million female discrimination related complains from 3,400 Wal-Mart stores in the United States. This paper provides a critical evaluation of the conflict, related laws and further personal analysis on how the conflict could have been solved to yield better results.
A brief company’s description
Wal-Mart Stores Inc was founded by Watson Sam in 1962 and has since grown to become one of the world largest corporations. In 2008, Fortune Global reported that Wal-Mart was the largest retailer and private employer in the United States (Hitt, Duane and Hoskisson, 2008). It runs about 3,800 stores in the United States and controls about 20% in the consumable retail business in the United States. The company has maintained high sales of above US $ 200 billion which reached a high of US $ 312.4 billion in 2005 (Hitt et al, 2008; Fishman, 2006). With emphasis on keeping the prices of its products low, the giant corporation has managed to dominate the market and win the loyalty of its consumers.
Critical analysis of the conflict and related laws
The gender discrimination case
Dukes versus Wal-Mart is a gender discrimination case that has persisted since the year 2001 and therefore becoming one of the largest labor relation case in the history of the company. Six women working in the California Wal-Mart stores complained of gender based discrimination despite their commitment and hard work in their duties (Fishman, 2006). Though the giant store’s founder believed strongly on firm corporate responsibility, the latter management deviated for the noble outline.
Despite exhibiting better performance in their operations, women were paid less compared to their male counterparts. Hitt et al (2008) indicate that on average, women on the same job classification earned between 5% to 15% less factoring in aspects such as performance and seniority. Why then would such a highly placed store allow or exercise such unlawful acts?
Wal-Mart Watch (2007) reports that despite women constituting 72% of the total labor force in the company, only 33% of them are in the management. For instance, 92% of the total cashiers in the store are women, but only 14% of stores managers are female. While the company’s management has maintained its indication of how ethical its operations have been, the fast pilling complains of gender discrimination suggest otherwise and may doom the giant’s future. However, recurrent questions whose answers appear to be far from the horizon include; why would such a giant accept such malpractices in its operations? Does the management understand the ethical implications of its actions to the victims? Do they further comprehend the risk that the company faces both from this conflict?
Related law analysis
i) The Civil Rights Act of 1964
According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1963, organizations and bodies are required to uphold strong ethics in their operations and practice non-discriminatory wage differentials. With Title VII seeking to create equal opportunities for both sexes and boosting their contribution, Wal-Mart gender discrimination conflict points at poor adherence to the exiting laws by the company’s management. As indicated earlier, Skog (2007) reports that women in this case earned less than their male counterparts despite performing the same duties and tasks. Under this law therefore, Wal-Mart will have a weak ground to substantiate its lower pay to female workers and therefore subject to meet the accrued damages.
ii) Equal pay act
This legislation perhaps best describes the Dukes versus Wal-Mart’s labor relations conflict by defining and extrapolating the emphasis on equal treatment of both genders in any employment unit. This legislation as Blanpain, Hiroya and Takashi (2008) explain, postulates that discrimination in payment on the basis of sex depresses the living and health conditions of employees and therefore undermining their overall efficiency. The legislation further indicates that this discrimination further limits maximum resources utility, increases disputes and slows commerce. Therefore, Title 29 and Section 206 of the Act demands that employees on the same operations level and performing equal work must be paid equally (Blanpain et al, 2008)..
According to this act therefore, Wal-Mart has broken the law by subjecting workers to the same working conditions but denying women equal pay compared to their male counterparts (Blanpain et al, 2008). The fast growing number of women complains of further discrimination at Wal-Mart indicates the low regard that the giant store has towards women as a whole. According to this law, Wal-Mart is indeed fighting a losing battle.
Though the case was filed ten years ago, its slow pace largely drawn form additional cases makes it subject to the new Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. The new Act provides a more in-depth consideration of gender discrimination by extending its definition, extent and implications (Grossman, 2009). Under this legislation, people are encouraged to consider the holistic implications resulting from discrimination in all spheres of the social-cultural and economic lives. As this legislation took effect from January 2009, Wal-Mart is likely to get higher penalties if proved guilty especially on the recent gender discrimination cases.
iii) Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)
Labor related operations in the United States requires clear adherence to ENDA which seeks to address the problem of discriminating employees on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Notably, this law seeks to strengthen the previous Civil Rights Act and Equal Pay Act by extending the demand for equal treatment to all (Blanpain et al, 2008). The Dukes case against Wal-Mart therefore puts the latter at direct crossroads with this legislation in that discrimination is practiced at all levels. In contrast to the legislation, Wal-Mart promotion practices are strongly biased as reflected by the few female numbers in the management positions. As indicated earlier, payments further favor the males while the female counterparts receive 5-15% less despite working under the same conditions (Wal-Mart Watch, 2007). Hemphill (2005) reports that the Dukes versus Wal-Mart labor relations discrimination conflict has key negative psychological and social-economic implications to women.
Personal analysis of how the conflict could have been addressed to yield better results
Conflicts resolution is considered effective if the resultant of the employed technique provides acceptable results that bind the conflicting parties stronger. Any conflict resolution is perfect as Griffin and Moorhead (2009) indicate if it creates a new platform within which resilience of similar issues is minimal. I therefore consider the competitive and authoritative method employed by Wal-Mart to be ineffective in that it did not solve the dispute and the offended went to court; a method that has further taken very long to conclude, given the company a very negative image and may lead to major losses from possible penalties.
i) Use of interest-based negotiations
According to the negotiations theory, the solution assimilated at the end of any conflict should facilitate a new approach by both parties in creating a more productive environment (Bercovitch and Jackson, 2009). Interest-based negotiations would have been effective for this conflict by focusing on the major causes of the females complains opposed to their personalities or positions. As a result, Wal-Mart should have sought to maintain a good relationship with its female employees who felt at the losing end. As a result, the negotiations would be centered on the focus and demands for both parties and allowing them to contribute to possible options of addressing the issue. At this point, the method becomes effective in that discriminated women would be part of the whole decision making panel to identify with the agreed solution (Griffin and Moorhead, 2009).
Notably, interest based negotiations in this case would be self propelling in that both parties would be able to explore the legality of the conflict that women raised against the company. Therefore, Wal-Mart would seek to move a step higher in readjusting its policies to adhere with the federal discrimination regulations. Though the aggrieved women had a strong case against the giant stores, the end results would not be seen as a loss for the latter. It would become a central motivating consideration, a holistic effort towards improving productivity and eventual profitability increase and sustainability. In a similar conflict between firefighters and city management of San Marino, Bphlander and Snell (2007) explain that interest based negotiations created a new working model based on mutual respect that strongly improved services delivery.
ii) Accommodating the female employees demands
Wal-Mart gender labor relations conflict reflects tolerance climax of the female employees who see a progressive and a well calculated model of denying their human rights as stipulated by the law. The giant store management should therefore consider the case and figure out the overall aftermath if the problem escalates. Indeed, it is lack of accommodation that aggravated the problem and the case expanded from a conflict between six women to the current over 1.5 million women accusing Wal-Mart of gender discrimination (Hodgets and Hegar, 2007). This could have certainly been voided.
Through accommodation, Wal-Mart would have created a new baseline for reviewing its policies on employment and workplace relations with respect to women. Though at a cost to increase the females pay with that of men, the option would avoid possible penalties the company may incur from possible penalties by the court, reduce the current negative publicity and improve the overall profitability. In their trial to analyze the possible implications of this option, Bercovitch and Jackson (2009) concluded that incorporating more female employees to the management and equalizing their pay with their male counterparts would greatly promote their commitment to work. It would however be crucial that a new position by the Wal-Mart store is assimilated to create long term focus for continued improvement by incorporating effective strategic assessment to enhance adherence of the new non-discrimination terms.
iii) Use of conflict transformation technique
In their view, Bercovitch and Jackson (2009) explained that conflicts occurrence must be considered to be against effective development and therefore should be intrinsically addressed to curve new understandings that redefine the collective mission of an organization. Conflict transformation is built not only on the basement of controlling or eliminating the conflict itself, but on greater intrinsic understanding of the problem’s nature. Wal-Mart application of conflict transformation would have called for assessment of the cause and consequences of the gender discrimination case. Though Hodgets and Hegar (2007) and Hemphill (2005) argue that the causes to the problem are indeed well implanted on the top management, the overall consequences might have been hard to figure out.
While developing the concept of conflict transformation, Lederach Paul emphasized on conciliation and mediation to create the needed understanding, promote the necessary concerns and most importantly emphasize on adherence to the existing legislations (Griffin and Moorhead, 2009). The transformation consideration at Wal-Mart would therefore bring together Wal-Mart and female employees towards not just forging the need to address the problem but further establishing an acceptable platform towards solving similar cases in future. Similar to interest based negotiations, the reconciling parties would emerge stronger on the basis of the existing laws of the land in business operations with acceptable adjustments towards both genders and the prevailing economic status.
It is from the above discussion that this paper conclude by supporting the thesis statement, ‘the ability of any organization to proactively identify labor relations conflicts and address them within the framework of the existing legislations creates a better platform for greater cooperation, more effective organization culture and higher profits sustainability.’ The dukes versus Wal-Mart conflict depicts gross violation of related discrimination legislations. Entry of new complains to the case as it came out in the study have the possibility of magnifying the penalties that Wal-Mart faces in court. Therefore, this paper calls for readjustment of Wal-Mart’s gender related policies in cohesion with the law to reduce resilience of similar cases and future use of interest-based negotiations, accommodation or conflict transformation methods in conflicts resolution.
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