When Ben was home sick for a few days last week, he watched a lot of TV (because I'm a good parent!) and thus saw a lot of commercials. One of his favorite advertised items was a big green car that kids can drive on their spacious suburban lawns, and the car is a Wal-Mart exclusive (doesn't that sound like an oxymoron?). Every time the ad came on, he said he wanted to buy that car at Wal-Mart, and every time, I told him we don't shop at Wal-Mart (aside from the fact that we don't have room for a car that size and he wouldn't have a good place to ride in it, us being urbanites and all).
Why don't we shop at Wal-Mart? Because when I read this NYT article, my eyebrows were often arched sharply upward and my mouth was agape in response to what I was learning. Wal-Mart's executive VP for benefits, M. Susan Chambers, wrote a memo to the board of directors with her suggestions for ways to minimize benefit costs. Chambers had a lot of creative ideas to convey. Like adding physically strenuous work to every job description to keep those expensive unhealthy people from even applying for jobs. (Cashier? Excellent job for someone with limited mobility. Cashier who also is required to gather up carts? Those with a bad back, bad knees, or mobility problems need not apply.) I'm sure Wal-Mart could find a way to get around the Americans with Disabilities Act, but could they be bigger assholes?
As at most employers, people with more seniority get paid more than new employees in the same job. Many employers like to reward loyalty and minimize turnover. Wal-Mart's Chambers points out that someone with 7 years of experience costs the company 55% more than a new employee, but is no more productive a cog in the Wal-Mart machinery. Sacre bleu! At least, the NYT reports, "she stopped short of calling for efforts to push out more senior workers."
In the memo, Chambers did acknowledge that "our [health] coverage is expensive for low-income families, and Wal-Mart has a significant percentage of associates and their children on public assistance," and that 46% of the children of Wal-Mart employees are uninsured or on Medicaid.
How about that new health plan Wal-Mart ballyhooed this week, the one that costs the employee as little as $11 a month? Keep in mind that employees signed up for this plan could face $2,500 or more in annual out-of-pocket expenses, on an income of $17,500. But whatever plan the employees manage to afford, "The memo noted that 38 percent of Wal-Mart workers spent more than one-sixth of their Wal-Mart income on health care last year."
I do feel fortunate that my closest Wal-Mart is a lot farther than multiple Target stores and Costco, and that I can afford Target prices. Makes it a lot easier to be a pollitically correct shopper...