Monday, November 01, 2004

If the Wal-Mart model catches on, eventually we may have national health care in this country -- i.e., Medicaid. Though I'm not sure who's going to pay for it:

...Wal-Mart finds itself under attack for what critics see as its miserly approach to employee health care, which they say is forcing too many of its workers and their families into state insurance programs or making them rely on charity care by hospitals....

A survey by Georgia officials found that more than 10,000 children of Wal-Mart employees were in the state's health program for children at an annual cost of nearly $10 million to taxpayers. A North Carolina hospital found that 31 percent of 1,900 patients who described themselves as Wal-Mart employees were on Medicaid, while an additional 16 percent had no insurance at all.

And backers of a measure that will be on California's ballot tomorrow, which would force big employers like Wal-Mart to either provide affordable health insurance to their workers or pay into a state insurance pool, say Wal-Mart employees without company insurance are costing California's state health care programs an estimated $32 million a year....

"Socially, we're engaged in a race to the bottom," said Craig Cole, the chief executive of Brown & Cole Stores, a supermarket chain that employs about 2,000 workers in Washington and adjoining states and pays for insurance coverage for about 95 percent of its employees. "Do we want to allow competition based on exploitation of the work force?" he asked....

That's from an article that ran in The New York Times today -- if you can bear to stop thinking about the election for a while, you should read it.

An infuriating aspect of this story is that Wal-Mart's top competitor, Costco, covers a far higher percentage of its workers -- and is punished for it in the marketplace (investors don't like Costco stock because the company's labor costs are seen as too high).

I won't shop at Wal-Mart. It's not an issue here in Manhattan, but when I'm out of town I'll choose any other store before Wal-Mart. If your financial situation is reasonably comfortable, why would you want to reward a company that denudes downtowns and mistreats workers? I think it's long past time for a Wal-Mart boycott -- and I also wonder about the morality of owning Wal-Mart stock. "Ethical investing" should concern itself with more than just overseas sweatshops and tobacco. Wal-Mart is helping to destroy America's middle class -- why reward that?

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