One of the movies recommended by fellow BGIers was: “The High Cost of Low Prices”. I ordered a copy and I’ll watch it over the holidays. In the meantime, I’ve caught a wave surfing on the now famous Wal-Mart memo about healthcare benefits. You can find the NYT article that brought it to national attention as well as a copy of the original memo here:
In the intial reporting, much attention was drawn to the suggestions for reducing employee obesity by making employees gather carts, as well as using that as a technique for discouraging unhealthy employees from applying or staying. However, that allowed us to be distracted from far more interesting information that backs up the claims that Wal-Mart underpays its employees and ends up supported by government.
Quotes from the memo:
“Wal-Mart has a significant percentage of Associates and their children on public assistance.”
“In total, 46 percent of Associates children are either on Medicaid or uninsured.”
It’s interesting that later in the memo when it discusses option for improving employee access to health insurance, the author notes that such changes will be expensive and so they’re doing rigorous testing to determine if it will “move the needle” on Wal-Mart’s reputation. That’s it, that seems to be the only consideration. So I guess reputation is a useful leverage point and that’s nice to know. Clearly any kind of absolute consideration for the well-being of employees doesn’t seem to factor in, perhaps because they don’t know how to connect it to the bottom line. It’s also disappointing that in discussing their unhealthy workforce, the solution is to attract a healthier one, rather than try to improve the health of the employees they have.
While the health care coverage they offer is expensive relative to what they pay and therefore many employees & dependents aren’t covered, a couple assertions from the memo support my belief that these days many people are working primarily for healthcare coverage:
“On average, Associates spend 8 percent of their income on healthcare (premiums plus deductibles plus out-of-pocket expenses) for themselves and their families, nearly twice the national average. […] In 2004, 38 percent of enrolled Associates spent more than 16 percent of the average Wal-Mart income on healthcare.”
“Most troubling, the least healthy, least productive Associates are more satisfied with their benefits than other segments and are interested in longer careers with Wal-Mart.”
Those two facts, that 1) the unhealthy people are the ones most interested in the jobs and 2) many employees spend a huge percentage (4 times the national average!) of their salary on the health benefits, combine for me to emphasize that access to health benefits is what currently attracts employees to Wal-Mart’s crappy jobs, and I believe in general to crappy jobs.
It’s not too late, take the Wal-Mart-free-Holiday Pledge!