Wal-Mart Weasels

Sunday, December 04, 2005 at 10:07 AM

How do you know that Wal-Mart has decided to get serious about "fighting back" against its critics?  Well, when two major newspapers run OpEd pieces by "respected" names, both extolling the virtues of the "retailer you can't avoid but would love to," I'd say it's a pretty good sign.

So here's a big cheer and a solid tribute to the Wal-Mart (W-M) weasels of the week, John Tierney and Sebastian Mallaby.

First came "Progressive Wal-Mart. Really." By Sebastian Mallaby in the Washington Post on Monday, November 28, 2005.

Then came "The Good Goliath" by John Tierney in the NY Times on November 29 (you'll need access to Times Select for online viewing).  This actually pitches W-M as one of the country's greatest "anti-poverty" weapons, which probably tells you all you need to know about the piece.

So what gives?  How can a corporation suddenly get such great access to the editorial pages of the country's two primary centers of power?  On consecutive days?  Did these two OpEd authors independently decide on almost the same day that the national disdain for Wal-Mart was unfair and needed to be corrected?

I won't claim that money changed hands, because these little affairs can be concocted without being that overt.  But, boy, doesn't it make you wonder?

As noted by Media Matters, both of the newly positive views of W-M are, at best, misleading about W-M's health Care plan and how it compares to the plans of other retailers:
"Both Mallaby and Tierney cited New York University visiting scholar Jason Furman's November 14 paper, "Wal-Mart: A Progressive Success Story," as the source for their columns. Indeed, Furman noted that "[i]n total, 5 percent of Wal-Mart employees are on Medicaid, which is similar to the percentage for other large retailers and is comparable to the national average of 4 percent." Furman's source for this comparison was an internal memo written by M. Susan Chambers, Wal-Mart's executive vice president for benefits. The New York Times reported on Chambers's memo in an October 26 article. But Furman, Mallaby, and Tierney all failed to reveal that in that same paragraph of the Chambers memo, Chambers acknowledged that children of Wal-Mart employees receive Medicaid or SCHIP at a significantly higher rate than the national employer average.

From Chambers's memo:
    "We also have a significant number of Associates [employees] and their children who receive health insurance through public-assistance programs. Five percent of our Associates are on Medicaid compared to an average for national employers of 4 percent. Twenty-seven percent of Associates' children are on such programs, compared to a national average of 22 percent (Exhibit 5). In total, 46 percent of Associates' children are either on Medicaid or are uninsured."

There's more on the Chambers memo from a Connecticut paper, the Fairfield Weekly on November 3, 2005:
"...Think about this the next time you whip into Walmart to buy plush towels: A leaked memo last week from Walmart's executive vice president for benefits, Susan Chambers, suggested that the next move in cost-cutting at the nation's largest private employer would be to "dissuade unhealthy people from coming to work at Walmart."

Doesn't that just warm your heart?  They're going to "dissuade" the unhealthy from working at one of the most unhealthy businesses going.  Just curious: how do you (a) find out that an applicant is "unhealthy"; (b) how do you "dissuade" them from working at W-M?  Maybe the answer to (b) is to simply tell them the truth about what working at W-M would be like, while continuing to lie to the healthy applicants.

And of course none of this really touches on W-M's other lovely operating policies: fanatical anti-union mania, abuse of employees by forcing them to "donate" their time to the W-M cause rather than pay them overtime, the fact that the CEO earns compensation equal to almost 2,000 hourly W-M employees, the on-going sex discrimination suit, the company's legendary lack of concern about customer safety in it's sprawling parking lots, and on and on.