Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2004
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***Selling Women Short

The Landmark Battle for Workers' Rights at Wal-Mart

by Lisa Featherstone

Reviewed January 10, 2005.
Basic Books, New York, 2004.  282 pages.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2004, #6, Current Issues

Selling Women Short tells the story of the largest class action lawsuit in the history of America, Betty Dukes v. Wal-mart.  Liza Featherstone does a great job telling the story, showing us individuals, explaining how it all started.  Along the way she talks about being poor in America, discrimination, low wages, unions, and standing up for what’s right.

The first chapters tell the story of the lawsuit.  It started with Stephanie Odle, who isn’t even a named plaintiff in the case because she doesn’t live in California.  She consistently got passed over for promotion in favor of less-qualified men and was paid less than men with less experience doing the same job.  She had a clear case of sex discrimination, and could have certainly won a large award if she took on the company as an individual.  However, she wanted to do something that would help all the other women treated poorly by Wal-Mart, so she began a class-action lawsuit that has ended up being the largest in the history of America.

The stories of discrimination that Liza Featherstone presents are amazing.  I wouldn’t have dreamed that in America today, men would tell a single mother that a man is getting paid more than her or promoted before her because he has a family to support.  That’s only the beginning.  One woman was asked to attend meetings at a strip club.  Others were told that they had to be willing to move to be promoted, but then the “requirement” was waived when a man took the job.  Mostly, women are consistently paid less and promoted less than men, and it’s a pervasive problem throughout the company.

Liza Featherstone goes on to present some other issues surrounding Wal-Mart.  Wal-Mart is good for the poor, since they offer such low prices, right?  She looks at this issue, but also discusses how Wal-Mart pays such low wages that they pass out information to their employees about how to get public assistance.  “Tax-payers are subsidizing Wal-Mart, and responsible government officials are getting worried.  In February 2004, the office of the Democratic congressman George Miller released a report showing that each Wal-Mart store employing 200 people costs taxpayers $420,750 per year in public assistance.”  So Wal-Mart does provide jobs, but it counts on the government to help its workers live on those wages.

The women whose stories are presented believed in Wal-Mart at one time.  They are trying to change things for the other women who work there, to stop the unfair treatment.  They’re trying to see if individuals can have a voice, to be heard even by one of the largest corporations in America.

We’ve been told that class-action lawsuits are a bad thing, a scheme made by greedy lawyers.  Reading this book changed my perspective.  Reading stories of women who were clearly discriminated against and now hope to make a difference was inspiring.  I hope they win their case. 

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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