Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times reported on March 19 that Wal-Mart paid $11 million to the US government to settle charges that it had employed illegal immigrants to do its cleaning.
As part of the settlement, Wal-Mart did not admit any wrongdoing.
I've never understood this part of our legal system. How could they pay $11 million but net admit that they did anything wrong? Usually, when I don't do anything wrong, I get to keep my money.
The substance of this case was also pretty entertaining, as cases involving Wal-Mart often seem to be. Wal-Mart's legal defenses always strike me as outrageous. They would not be outrageous if presented by a small child, but when presented by a company that is cunning enough to essentially conquer the world economy, they are about as believable as the end of major operations in Iraq.
In this case, they said that they did not know that the contractors they hired to do their cleaning employed illegal immigrants. In previous cases, they have claimed to have been unaware that their employees were failing to punch out for lunch. Right.
This deniability was surely part of the reason why they chose to use independent contractors to clean their stores in the first place. Gosh, I wonder why these particular contractors were so much cheaper than the competition. Poor naive little Wal-Mart had no idea what made these particular folks so gosh darn cheap. Much like Wal-Mart itself, they must have figured that these people like to just give neighborhood folks a gosh darn good deal too.
I don't agree with the US immigration laws, so I can't really stand behind the idea of punishing someone for employing "illegal immigrants", but I can certainly stand against blatant lying, unfair competition, and union-busting, all of which were involved in this particular heist.
Because the case was settled, we won't know exactly how many illegal employees were involved, but given the size of Wal-Mart, I doubt the $11 million fine comes anywhere near the savings they achieved by paying their custodial staff with the change that fell out of Wal-Mart executive pants pockets in the laundry.