Propaganda & Mass Persuasion: Wal-Mart and the Fight For Health-Care

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wal-Mart and the Fight For Health-Care

“The New War Over Wal-Mart” by Joshua Green

As I began reading “The New War Over Wal-Mart,” I assumed that Wal-Mart, the world’s largest company, does not provide health-care benefits to its employees due to corporate greed and a lack of concern for its minimum wage workers.  However, as I continued reading I learned that the problem of uninsured workers does not fall on Wal-Mart alone, but rather can be blamed on the escalating costs of health-care, itself, which is hurting workers and businesses alike.

As a leading entity, Wal-Mart has achieved much success by maintaining rigid cost control.  Now it holds the power to help balance U.S. inflation.  However, because of its massive influence, it is held to a greater standard of accountability and must demonstrate good business practice and ethics.  Nonetheless, Wal-Mart is widely criticized for outsourcing U.S. manufacturing jobs which drives down wages and benefits.  It is also condemned for its health care policy which covers less than half of its workers, thus forcing the government to carry this financial strain by caring for tens of thousands of its employees and their children who are Medicaid recipients. 

Labor unions are a major force of opposition who fight against Wal-mart such as the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) and Wal-mart Watch which is funded by Service Employees International Union (SEIU).  With a budget of $5 million a year, Wal-Mart Watch has pushed anti-Wal-Mart laws in different states, released damaging internal documents, and exposed its exploitation of government health plans.

Andy Stern, the president of SEIU, describe his reasons of hostility against the company: “Why go after Wal-Mart? Because Wal-Mart is the GM of our era.  Whatever business practices they adopt have huge influence across other American business.”  He went on to say that “My goal is to get Wal-Mart’s leadership out there in traffic and holler, ‘We can no longer compete in the global economy when health care is factored into the cost of our products.’ If Wal-Mart’s CEO, Lee Scott, were to come out and say, ‘We need a national health-care system that works for everyone,’ then it’s a whole new ball game.”

Sterns main objective is to get Wal-Mart to change its practices and use its economical pull for the good of the people and labor.  He wishes to coax Wal-Mart into supporting a national health-care policy.  In turn, he hopes that this will incite support from other companies that emulate Wal-Mart and, thus, pressure the federal government to transform health-care.  Stern’s drive for national health-care is due to the fact that he is just as impacted by the high price of health-care as are businesses.

During the 20th century, companies were in favor of employer-provided health benefits in order to compete for workers.  However, today businesses such as Wal-Mart can’t afford to provide their workers with health-care and have therefore, resorted to using unethical methods to avoid these costs such as discrimination against hiring “unhealthy” people.  In effect, the controversy over the health benefits provided by Wal-Mart needs to be refocused on collaborating with Wal-Mart to help fight against the health-care industry.

 My questions for the Wal-Mart spokesperson are:

  1. We are currently facing a huge problem in providing American workers with health-care.  What stance and role has Wal-Mart enacted upon to help fix this national crisis?
  2. Should Wal-Mart be responsible in providing health-care to its employees due to the rising cost of health care spending, or should government infringe upon the escalating cost of health-care?



Blogger A. Mattson said...

A great post. You have raised some of the key questions here.

If Wal-Mart is the new symbol of corporate america, because of its size and importance to the economy, should it be held to a higher standard of corporate ethics and behavior? What does that mean for this corporation's relationship with the media and the public?

This is a course that examines media and mass persuasion, not a course in labor relations or health care policy. What can we learn from Wal-Mart's attempts to shape its image around the health care issue? Clearly the corporation has been singled out for scrutiny by labor activists and progressives. What should the corporate response be in this situation? Is this about changing the public perception of Wal-Mart through a public relations or public education campaign that would address the health care issue? How does the issue of health care fit into the conflict over unionizing Wal-Mart?

4/23/2009 11:19 AM  

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