Pity poor Wal-Mart employees. They make $10 an hour to work in a place where shoppers treat them like dirt; they’re blocked from unionizing at every turn; and they face sex discrimination as a matter of course if a lawsuit filed on behalf of one million women proves true.
But Wal-Mart’s greatest mistreatment of employees comes in the form of health insurance – or lack thereof. Although the company swears it provides coverage to all its “eligible” employees, Wal-Mart is clearly living in a fantasy Wonderland.
Take a Georgia survey that found more than 10,000 children of the company’s employees are in the state’s health care program, reports The New York Times. Well no wonder, since Wal-Mart helps its employees apply for government assistance.
The company, which not surprisingly refuses to reveal the full extent of how they neglect employees, insured only about 45 percent of its 537,000 workers. Costco Wholesale, on the other hand, insures 96 percent of its eligible employees. One reason for the huge difference is that full-time Costco employees become eligible for benefits after three months, while the saps working for Wal-Mart must wait six months.
Because Costco pays more on average and generally has better working conditions, employees are more likely to remain on the job and earn those benefits. And Costco employees shoulder only 8 percent of the insurance cost, while the more poorly paid Wal-Mart “associate” must pay 33 percent. But then again, that might be why Wal-Mart makes a pretax profit of 5.5 percent while Costco is stuck at 2.7 percent.
Wal-Mart shifts the health-care crisis blame, however, onto the government. Why should the largest employer in the United States sacrifice its competitive advantage? After all, executives say, it’s not fair to ask corporations to solve America’s serious social problems such as the uninsured or escalating cost of Medicare.
Sure guys. That’s why you are spending $500,000 to block passage of Proposition 72 in California, which is a government attempt to solve the problem. The ballot measure would level the playing field in California by requiring large companies to either provide affordable insurance or pay into a pool to defray the state’s costs of treating the uninsured. I know, I know, you don’t want a level playing field.
But after all is said and done, I’m going to give the billionaires at Wal-Mart an out, should they choose to take it. With 45 million uninsured in this country – most of them who are employed – it is clear that too many of America’s businesses are not up to taking care of our health needs. So instead of blaming the government for your failings, why don’t you spend some of your lobbying millions on a national health care program that covers all Americans, whether working or not? The positive press might even push customers who HATE your company into the stores, which would then boost your profit margin up to 6 percent.