Of course, all the recent press regarding the huge Walmart class action decision is about the procedural class action issues. And make no mistake, this is a huge case and sets the stage going forward for more large classes of employees to join together to assert their rights. We know that the labor movement in this country, which now represents only about 7% of the workforce (down from over 40% in the 50’s) is becoming more and more marginalized.
What caught my eye in a recent article was the report that a female Walmart employee was told that she was not qualified to manage because she could not stack 50 pound bags of dog food. Now I’ve done an awful lot of FLSA work and I have never seen a court rule that lifting dog food is an element of the executive exemption!
All kidding aside, this issue reinforces what I and many of my colleagues have been saying for years: big retail is abusing its management staff by classifying them as salaried exempt and giving them hours and hours of grunt, manual hourly labor to do. Big retail in this country has slowly but surely reduced its hourly staff and dumped more work and more hours on its “management” staff by having them work 50 to 60 hours per week without overtime. Of course, if your primary duty is management, the law allows an employer to make you work more than 40 hours without overtime pay. But, when the extra work is manual labor and the amount of time that you spend doing management tasks dimishes to less than 20% of your day, you are probably no longer a manager under the law and may be entitle to overtime pay.
So, cudos to the fantastic lawyers who are enforcing the rights of the women at Walmart to become managers. But, be careful what you wish for. Retail managers and assistant managers these days are working 60 hours a week doing manual labor. Of course, I bet the job description doesn’t say “must be able to lift 50 pound bag of dog food.” Just a guess!