Saturday, October 28, 2006

Wal-Mart adds 12 states to drug plan

Oct 26, 7:22 AM EDT
Wal-Mart adds 12 states to drug plan

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's biggest retailer, said Thursday it is extending its $4 generic prescription drug plan to another 12 states, bringing to total to 27 states.

The move brings 1,008 more stores under the program, under which Wal-Mart charges $4 for a one-month supply of 314 different prescriptions. That number includes 143 drugs in a variety of dosages and solid or liquid forms.

Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart rolled out the program in Florida three weeks ago and last week added 14 states to the list. The low-priced drugs are now available in 2,507 Wal-Mart, Sam's Club and Neighborhood Market stores.

The company said in a news release that it accelerated the launch of the low-priced prescriptions because of customer demand.

Analysts say the program will help Wal-Mart by bringing in more customers who will shop in other store departments, and extend its reach in another segment of the retailing industry - the drug store business.

Union-backed Wal-Mart critics have also accused the company of using the low-priced drugs to divert attention from its own employee health insurance plan, which anti-Wal-Mart groups say does not offer adequate coverage.

States added Thursday were: Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, South Dakota and Virginia.

States already with the program were: Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas and Vermont.

© 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

© Copyright 2006 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Wal-Mart Loses Pennsylvania Suit Over Missed Breaks

Wal-Mart Loses Pennsylvania Suit Over Missed Breaks (Update5)
By Sophia Pearson and Margaret Cronin Fisk

Oct. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, violated Pennsylvania labor laws by forcing hourly employees to work through rest periods and after their shifts had ended, a state court jury found.

Jurors in Philadelphia today sided with two former Wal-Mart workers who sued on behalf of almost 187,000 current and former employees in Pennsylvania. The workers' lawyers will seek as much as $162 million in damages in a second phase of the trial that starts tomorrow.

Lawyers for the ex-employees, Dolores Hummel and Michelle Braun, claimed that Wal-Mart made workers skip more than 33 million rest breaks from 1998 to 2001 to boost productivity and curb labor costs. More than 70 similar wage-and-hour suits have been filed across the U.S. against the Bentonville, Arkansas- based company.

``Today's decision is another harsh indictment of Wal- Mart's pattern of disrespect for its workers and disregard for state law,'' Andrew Grossman, executive director of labor- advocacy group Wal-Mart Watch, said in an e-mailed statement. ``They're exploiting their workers and passing it off as efficiency.''

Second Loss

Lawyers for both sides declined to comment after today's verdict. John Simley, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said the company wouldn't comment until after the jury determines damages.

The loss is Wal-Mart's second in a class-action lawsuit over wages in less than a year. In December, a California jury awarded $172.3 million to Wal-Mart workers for missed meal breaks. In August, the judge in the case ordered Wal-Mart to obey California laws requiring rest breaks for hourly workers.

Shares of Wal-Mart rose 1 cent to $48.32 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading at 4 p.m. They have gained 3.2 percent this year, valuing the company at $201.4 billion.

``Wal-Mart has a lot of labor issues: Do they pay the workers enough? Are they making managers work through overtime?'' said David Abella, an analyst at Rochdale Investment Management in New York, which owns Wal-Mart shares. ``It's a little bit of a factor'' for the stock price, he said.

Staff Shortages

The jury, which began deliberations yesterday, found in Wal-Mart's favor on a claim for missed meal breaks. Lawyers for Braun and Hummel accused the company of denying 2 million unpaid meal breaks to workers at its Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores in Pennsylvania from 1998 to 2001.

During the six-week trial in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, former Wal-Mart employees testified that they were pressured by store managers to pass up breaks and cut meals short. Two cashiers claimed they were locked in stores after their shifts ended and forced to restock merchandise before they could leave.

Lawyers for Braun and Hummel blamed the missed rest breaks in part on Wal-Mart's staffing system, which based a store's staffing levels on its budgeted sales. The system led to personnel shortages at stores that made it impossible for workers to take breaks, the plaintiffs said.

Wal-Mart denied the claims, with executives testifying that the company required workers to take scheduled breaks and didn't ignore employees' complaints. Company officials said records appeared to show that workers were shortchanged only because some chose not to take breaks or neglected to sign out.

Under Wal-Mart's policy, 30-minute meal periods are unpaid and awarded after six hours of work. Rest breaks are paid, with employees who work more than six hours allowed two 15-minute periods.

Possible Damages

The company faces as much as $97.2 million in compensatory damages and $65 million in liquidated damages, said Michael Donovan, an attorney for Hummel and Braun. Wal-Mart reported net income of $11.2 billion for the fiscal year through January, on sales of $312.4 billion.

An Oregon jury found in 2002 that Wal-Mart violated state and federal wage laws by forcing employees to work unpaid overtime. A judge ordered the company to pay $180,000 to about 80 workers.

The cases are Braun v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 3127, and Hummel v. Wal-Mart, 3757, Common Pleas Court, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia).

To contact the reporters on this story: Sophia Pearson in Philadelphia at Margaret Cronin Fisk in Southfield, Michigan, at

Last Updated: October 12, 2006 16:02 EDT

Sunday, October 15, 2006



October 14, 2006 -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc. owes workers in Pennsylvania $78.5 million for missed rest breaks and hours worked beyond regular shifts, a jury ruled, handing the world's largest retailer its second such trial loss in less than a year.

Jurors in Philadelphia awarded the damages Thursday at the end of a six-week trial over workers' pay starting in 1998. After hearing arguments yesterday on how much money to award, the jurors needed just two hours to accept a figure proposed by the workers' lawyers in the class-action suit.

The verdict is Wal-Mart's second multi-million- dollar loss in 10 months in employee group lawsuits over wages. In December, a jury awarded $172.3 million to California workers for missed meal breaks. More than 70 such actions have been filed against the Bentonville, Ark., company.

During this case, former Wal-Mart employees testified they were pressured by store managers to skip breaks and cut meals short. Two cashiers claimed they were locked in stores after their shifts ended and forced to restock merchandise before they could leave.

Lawyers for the lead plaintiffs, Dolores Hummel, 53, and Michele Braun, 27, are seeking $62 million in addition to back pay. Under Pennsylvania law, each person in the class, put at 186,979 by lawyers, can receive $500 beyond actual damages, said Michael Donovan, their attorney.

Donovan said he expects Judge Mark Bernstein to decide on those damages at a later date.

"These women have been vindicated, and the people who had the nerve to call them liars now have to eat their words," said Judy Spanier, another of their attorneys.The women's lawyers claimed Wal-Mart made Pennsylvania workers skip more than 33 million rest breaks from 1998 to 2001 to boost productivity and curb costs.

Shares of Wal-Mart rose 14 cents yesterday to $48.46 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading.

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Wal-Mart to Add Wage Caps and Part-Timers

October 2, 2006
Wal-Mart to Add Wage Caps and Part-Timers

Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer, is pushing to create a cheaper, more flexible work force by capping wages, using more part-time workers and scheduling more workers on nights and weekends.

Wal-Mart executives say they have embraced new policies for a large number of their 1.3 million workers to better serve their customers, especially at busy shopping times — and point out that competitors like Sears and Target have made some of these moves, too.

But some Wal-Mart workers say the changes are further reducing their already modest incomes and putting a serious strain on their child-rearing and personal lives. Current and former Wal-Mart workers say some managers have insisted that they make themselves available around the clock, and assert that the company is making changes with an eye to forcing out longtime higher-wage workers to make way for lower-wage part-time employees.

Investment analysts and store managers say Wal-Mart executives have told them the company wants to transform its work force to 40 percent part-time from 20 percent. Wal-Mart denies it has a goal of 40 percent part-time workers, although company officials say that part-timers now make up 25 percent to 30 percent of workers, up from 20 percent last October.

To some extent, Wal-Mart is simply doing what business strategists recommend: deploying workers more effectively to meet the peaks and valleys of business in their stores. Wall Street, which has put pressure on Wal-Mart to raise its stock price, has endorsed the strategy, with analysts praising the new approach to managing its workers. In the last three years, the stock price has fallen about 10 percent, closing at $49.32 a share on Friday.

“They need to be doing some of this,” said Charles Grom, an analyst at J. P. Morgan Chase who covers Wal-Mart. It lets the company schedule employees “when they are generating most of their sales — at lunch, in the evening on the weekends.”

But Sally Wright, 67, an $11-an-hour greeter at the Wal-Mart in Ponca City, Okla., said she quit in August after 22 years with the company when managers pressed her to make herself available to work any time, day or night. She requested staying on the day shift, but her manager reduced her schedule from 32 hours a week to 8 and refused her pleas for more hours, she said.

“They were trying to get rid of me,” Ms. Wright said. “I think it was to save on health insurance and on the wages.”

Wal-Mart vigorously denies it is pushing out longtime or full-time employees and says its moves will ensure its competitiveness. The company says it gives employees three weeks’ notice of their schedules and takes their preferences into account, but that description differs from those of many workers interviewed. Workers said that their preferences were often ignored and that they were often given only a few days’ notice of scheduling changes.

These moves have been unfolding in the year since Wal-Mart’s top human resources official sent the company’s board a confidential memo stating, with evident concern, that experienced employees were paid considerably more than workers with just one year on the job, while being no more productive. The memo, disclosed by The New York Times in October 2005, also recommended hiring healthier workers and more part-time workers because they were less likely to enroll in Wal-Mart’s health plan.

Other big retailers, with or without unions, have begun using more part-time workers, adopted wage caps and instituted more demanding work schedules in one form or another. But because Wal-Mart is such a giant — its $312 billion in sales last year exceeded the sales of the next five biggest retailers combined — its new labor practices may well influence policies more broadly.

And Wal-Mart’s tougher scheduling demands could be especially taxing on workers because, unlike its competitors, the chain has many stores — more than 1,900 out of 4,000 — that are open 24 hours.

Human resources experts have long said that companies benefit most from having experienced workers. Yet Wal-Mart officials say the efficiencies they gain will outweigh the effects of having what labor experts say would be a less experienced, less stable, lower-paid work force.

Sarah Clark, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, said the company viewed the changes as “a productivity improvement through which we will improve the shopping experience for our customers and make Wal-Mart a better place to work for our associates,” as Wal-Mart refers to its employees.

But some workplace experts point to the downside of the policies. Susan J. Lambert, a professor of social sciences at the University of Chicago who has written several research papers on retail workers, called it a burden for employees to cope with constant schedule changes.

“You have to set up child care for every day just in case you have to work,” she said, “and this makes it hard to establish routines like reading to your kids at night or having dinner together as a family.”

The adoption of wage caps has also been difficult for many workers to swallow. Workers will never receive annual raises if their pay is at or above the cap, unless they move to a higher-paying job category. Wal-Mart says the caps will encourage workers to seek higher-paying jobs with more responsibility.

To compensate for lost future wages under the new system, Wal-Mart made one-time payments of $200 to $400 to workers whose pay was near or over the caps. Several workers described that as “hush money.”

Ramiro Gonzalez, who works in the produce department of a Wal-Mart in El Paso, said that many longtime workers were fuming about the caps.

No matter how hard people work, “we won’t get anything else out of it,” said Mr. Gonzalez, who earns $11.18 an hour, or about $23,000 a year, after six years with Wal-Mart. “The message is, if I don’t like it, there is the door. They are trying to hit people who have the most experience so they can leave.”

In the confidential memo sent to Wal-Mart’s board last year, M. Susan Chambers, who was recently promoted to be Wal-Mart’s executive vice president in charge of human resources, questioned whether it was cost-efficient to employ longtime workers. “Given the impact of tenure on wages and benefits,” she wrote, “the cost of an associate with 7 years of tenure is almost 55 percent more than the cost of an associate with 1 year of tenure, yet there is no difference in his or her productivity.”

The memo said, “the shift to more part-time associates will lower Wal-Mart’s health-care enrollment” even though Wal-Mart was reducing the amount of time to one year, from two, that part-time workers would have to wait to qualify for health insurance.

Workers say there is some evidence that the goals outlined in Ms. Chambers’ memo are being put into practice. At several stores in Florida, employees said, managers have suddenly barred older employees with back or leg problems from sitting on stools after using them for years while working as cashiers, store greeters or fitting-room attendants. Wal-Mart said it had no companywide policy on stool use and did not have enough information to comment.

In August, Wal-Mart sent all store managers a confidential document called “Facility Manager Toolkit.” It instructed them to tell workers that the new pay system helped “establish pay levels that are competitive in the local job market, helping us to attain and retain the talent we need.”

If a worker asked whether the wage caps were “one more attempt to get rid of long-service Wal-Mart workers,” the manager was to respond that this was “not an attempt to ‘get rid’ of long term associates,” but was “consistent with our objective to maintain internally equitable pay levels,” according to the document. The memo was supplied to The New York Times by, a group funded by the United Food and Commercial Workers, which has tried to organize Wal-Mart workers in the past.

Though some workers have quit in response to the pay caps and scheduling policies, Wal-Mart says it has received an average of seven applications for every job opening at a new store in the last three months.

Wal-Mart generally prohibits reporters from interviewing workers in its stores. The Times contacted employees through union-backed groups, Wal-Mart, employment lawyers and referrals from current and former workers.

A big area of discrepancy between what Wal-Mart says and what the workers say is whether the company has a policy of “open availability,” requiring employees to make themselves available around the clock. Ms. Clark, the Wal-Mart spokeswoman, said the company had no such a policy, adding, “Our main goal is to match the ratio of associates to customers shopping in our stores resulting in better customer service hour by hour.” Wal-Mart says it pays higher wages to night-shift workers.

But in March, workers from a Wal-Mart in Nitro, W.Va., held a small protest rally in the center of town after Wal-Mart managers demanded 24-hour availability and cut the hours of workers who balked. And workers from other stores around the country said in interviews that similar demands had been made on them.

Houston Turcott, the former overnight stocking manager at the Wal-Mart in Yakima, Wash., said that managers had told workers, “Either they had full, open availability so we can schedule them when we would like or we would cut their hours.”

Tracie Sandin, who worked in the Yakima store’s over-the-counter drug department until last February, said, “They said, if you don’t have open availability, you’re put on the bottom of the list for hours.”

Ms. Sandin said that many Wal-Mart employees disliked the tougher scheduling demands, which typically did not take seniority into account. “It makes it hard,” she said. “If you have a function with your child or you want to go to church on Sunday, you don’t want to miss those things.”

Tim Hahn, who oversees three workers as manager of the housewares department of a Wal-Mart in Lake St. Louis, Mo., said that two of his subordinates had left their schedules open, but one did not for family reasons. Mr. Hahn said “it helps a lot” to have two workers who have agreed to work during the day or night.

“Sometimes they work two nights a week and two days a week,” he said. “If there is an issue with a schedule, they can approach me. It’s something we will work to solve. If they need this day off, I am happy to give it to them.”

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Wal-Mart Pulls Another Fast One, Maximum Push for PR, Minimal Help for Patients

Wal-Mart Pulls Another Fast One, Maximum Push for PR, Minimal Help for Patients
10/5/2006 3:56:00 PM

To: State Desk, Health and Medical Reporters

Contact: Carol Cooke of National Community Pharmacists Association, 703-838-2686,

ALEXANDRIA, Va., Oct. 5 /U.S. Newswire/ -- The National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) today called Wal-Mart's expansion of its generic drug program a cynical attempt to gain maximum public relations value while providing minimal value to patients. Wal-Mart today announced that it will begin offering a small number of generic medications for $4 in all of its Florida stores beginning Oct. 6. Two weeks ago, the company said it would take the program statewide next year.

"If you look at the list of medications they are offering for $4, it represents about one percent of the total number of drugs available," said NCPA Executive Vice President and CEO Bruce Roberts, RPh. "The question people should be asking Wal-Mart is, 'What will you be charging for the other 99 percent of the medications that people need?'"

Of the more than 11,000 drugs listed by the Food and Drug Administration, the Wal-Mart program will offer about 300. Of that group:

-- Fewer than 150 separate medicines are included. For example, 12 different versions of the antibiotic amoxicillin are included on the list.

-- Many older medications are on the list and newer, replacement medications that often work better or have fewer side effects are not included on the list.

"Wal-Mart's original list included none of the generic statins used to treat high cholesterol," Roberts said. "After much criticism, the company added the oldest one with the worst profile for side effects. Patients deserve good care. Instead they -- and Rep. Jeb Bush -- are being used by Wal-Mart."

The impact of Wal-Mart's program also raises concerns about patient safety and the professional counseling role of pharmacists.

"We have tremendous respect for the power of prescription medications and the lifesaving -- or if used incorrectly, life- threatening -- power they possess," Roberts said. "NCPA hopes that Wal-Mart pharmacists will be given the time to adequately counsel all of their patients about their prescription medicines."

NCPA also is seeking a close examination of the anti- competitive nature of Wal-Mart's action. Wal-Mart is known for driving small-town businesses out of business through deceptive and predatory pricing practices and then raising prices on prescription drugs and other health-related products.

"Prescription medicines are not a commodity like T-shirts and DVDs," Roberts said. "Community pharmacists are in the health care business and provide a value to patients no matter what medications they are taking. We are concerned that patients will be both misled and disappointed by the limited number of medicines in this new program."

The National Community Pharmacists Association, founded in 1898, represents the nation's community pharmacists, including the owners of more than 24,000 pharmacies. The nation's independent pharmacies, independent pharmacy franchises and independent chains dispense nearly half of the nation's retail prescription medicines.

© 2006 U.S. Newswire 202-347-2770/

Copyright © 2006 PR Newswire Association LLC.
All rights reserved. A United Business Media Company

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

No rollback here: Megastore ramps up political contributions

Wal-Mart doesn't discount politicians
No rollback here: Megastore ramps up political contributions
By Pallavi Gogoi
Business Week
Updated: 2:26 p.m. ET Sept 29, 2006

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has legions of close friends, collected over decades as a Hollywood box office draw and rising political star. Yet few may consider him as dear as Wal-Mart Stores, which gave the Republican governor $22,300 on May 15, and earlier contributed $200,000 for initiatives Schwarzenegger had supported. In addition, the company has given $300,000 to the state GOP and additional funds to local politicians, making California the biggest recipient of Wal-Mart's political largesse.

California is just one of the places where local politicians are benefiting from Wal-Mart's growing interest in state affairs. Over the past four election cycles, the giant retailer has been steadily boosting its contributions to state and local politicians, just as such politicians have been taking on bigger roles in deciding key issues concerning the company's operations, from the local minimum wage and required health-care benefits to zoning for big-box retailers. Money has gone to everyone from Schwarzenegger and New York gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer to Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich and Illinois state Senate President Emil Jones Jr.

Wal-Mart gave a total of $326,875 in the 2000 election cycle, $431,017 in 2002, and $857,179 in 2004, according to research by the Institute on Money in State Politics, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization based in Helena, Mont. For the 2006 election cycle, the company has given $644,655 so far and seems to be on track to hit a record for political contributions.

"They've gone from zero to warp speed in political giving all across the board," says Bruce Freed, co-director of the Center for Political Accountability, a nonprofit group that tracks corporate political spending. The totals include only direct contributions to politicians and political parties. Adding in money for ballot initiatives and other local issues brings the total of Wal-Mart state giving so far this cycle to $1.25 million.

Wal-Mart says it's become necessary to step up its contributions. For two decades it largely shunned politics because company founder Sam Walton didn't believe such activities benefited his customers. In fact, Wal-Mart didn't hire any lobbyists or establish any political action committees until 1998.

No longer on the sidelines
But that reticence, the company now says, has allowed critics to launch unilateral attacks and set the agenda on a number of issues. "For years we didn't participate — to our detriment," says company spokesman John Simley. "Now we're participating in the same political process as any citizen, in this case a corporate citizen."

Simley says contributions are now a carefully considered component of Wal-Mart's business strategy. "The process that we use to choose to whom we contribute has to do with the voting record and position of each official," he says. "We look at their records on anything that's relevant to our business, like trade, taxes, legislation related to pharmacy and grocery, and we also consider the magnitude of our presence in the districts they represent."

Today, Wal-Mart has become one of the most active corporations in the U.S. At the federal level, Wal-Mart is already the No. 1 corporate political contributor, giving $943,455 in the 2006 election cycle, followed by General Electric's $788,711 and Anheuser Busch's $671,644, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, another nonpartisan watchdog.

( is a joint venture of GE's NBC Universal News unit and Microsoft Corp.)

Battleground states — for Wal-Mart
As for the states, Wal-Mart has become one of the most active givers, though it still ranks well behind telecom companies such as AT&T and tobacco companies like R.J. Reynolds.

Wal-Mart's contributions vary greatly by state, in part because the rules governing such donations are widely divergent. Twenty-one states prohibit corporate contributions altogether, and two dozen other states impose limits. For example, a corporation can give a maximum of $22,300 to a gubernatorial candidate in California, while New York limits corporate contributions to $5,000 per year. Five states — Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Virginia — have no giving limits.

The states have become an increasingly crucial battleground for Wal-Mart, as the federal government has declined to get involved in initiatives to boost the minimum wage or mandate higher health-care benefits. Politicians in at least 20 states have sponsored pieces of legislation (many of them dubbed "Wal-Mart bills") that aim to force the Bentonville, Ark.-based company to pay higher wages and offer workers more generous health benefits. Many cities — from Belfast, Maine, and Bennington, Vt., to Ashland, Ore., and Bozeman, Mont. — have passed ordinances banning large stores like Wal-Mart's behemoth supercenters, and others have enacted ordinances to force Wal-Mart to pay higher wages.

Golden State focus
As state and local politicians consider legislation on everything from pay and health packages to expansion plans, the financial implications for Wal-Mart can be huge. When Maryland passed a law that would have required the company to boost health-care coverage for its workers in the state, the costs would have run into the millions. In July, a federal judge overturned the law.

In New York, Spitzer broke with top Democratic lawmakers and several powerful unions over similar legislation. Three months after receiving a Wal-Mart contribution, he came out against a measure that would tax businesses such as Wal-Mart that don't provide health benefits to all employees. A Spitzer campaign spokeswoman said the retailer's contribution had no bearing in his decision, but rather "the bill was about complex issues that would be better addressed through comprehensive health-care reform."

California may be the most contentious state for Wal-Mart. Many locals oppose the retailer, for a variety of reasons. And several towns and districts such as Oakland, Antioch, Inglewood, and Turlock have passed rules that don't allow Wal-Mart's supercenter stores, which typically are 100,000 square feet or greater in size and include a grocery, pharmacy, salon and bank all under one roof. Wal-Mart is trying to make up lost ground and has an aggressive goal to expand its number of California supercenters, from just seven at the beginning of 2006 to 40 by next year. The company gave the state Republican Party $300,000 in the first six months of 2006, according to data from California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson.

Lock-in locations
Governor Schwarzenegger has been a huge beneficiary. This year's $22,300 contribution came on top of last year's $100,000 to Citizens to Save California, a committee created by Schwarzenegger's business supporters. And Wal-Mart contributed another $100,000 to Proposition 77, a redistricting attempt that was the governor's pet measure, which was defeated. In the past two years, Schwarzenegger has vetoed bills that Wal-Mart opposed. Schwarzenegger campaign press secretary Julie Soderlund denies any link with the company's donations and says the governor "always makes decisions based upon what's best for the people of California."

One of the California bills the governor vetoed would have prohibited employers from locking workers into stores while they work. The other bill would've forced the disclosure of corporations that have employees who rely on taxpayer-funded health care. The bills arose out of a huge furor over Wal-Mart's practice of locking in janitors in some of its stores at night and information that many Wal-Mart employees and their children were receiving state-funded health care. Wal-Mart says it opposed the latter bill because it had several flaws, one of which was that it didn't require data from public sector employees.

Wal-Mart still locks in employees at night despite incidents reported in Texas and Colorado where medical attention for injured or sick employees was delayed due to the policy. Says spokesman Simley: "It is only in some locations that we lock in associates at night and it is done for the protection of the associates, the safety of the store, and to guard against internal theft that may occur, and managers who have the key will let them out in case of an emergency."

New challenges
Today, Schwarzenegger has at least two more bills sitting on his desk that are targeted at Wal-Mart. One of the bills would require big-box retailers to conduct an economic impact report before opening large stores. Another would force large retailers to pay the legal fees of communities that win cases challenging zoning ordinances in court. Wal-Mart has sued towns with such ordinances in the past—Fresno and Turlock have won their cases and other towns have lost. But the huge legal bills that piled up during the court fights have scared other municipalities.

"The question now is: Will the governor succumb to the financial influence that Wal-Mart and the Walton family are trying to exert over his administration with their multimillion-dollar donations, and neglect a cry for help from small cities, small businesses, and workers?" asks California state Senator Richard Alarcon, who authored the latest bills.

Copyright © 2006 The McGraw-Hill Companies Inc. All rights reserved.

© 2006

© 2006 Microsoft

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Wal-Mart to Shrink Options For New Hires' Health Care

Wal-Mart to Shrink Options For New Hires' Health Care
By Ylan Q. Mui and Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 27, 2006; D03

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is scaling back the health-care plans available to new employees, sparking fresh criticism over whether the giant retailer is providing adequate coverage to its workers.

As of Jan. 1, the company will offer new hires only two health benefits packages in which the monthly premium can be as low as $11 but the deductible can reach $6,000, according to documents provided to The Washington Post by Wake-Up Wal-Mart, a union-backed group.

The company's two other benefit plans, which have lower deductibles, will no longer be offered to new employees. However, the plans will remain available to current employees who choose to renew their coverage.

Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Fogleman said yesterday that he expected the change to save most employees money. He said a review of the company's health-benefits plans showed most had opted for a package with a monthly premiums between $70 and $100, and a $350 deductible, but that more than half never paid that much.

That drove the decision to require new hires to sign up for Wal-Mart's new plans that have lower monthly payments but higher deductibles. The option known as the "value plan" starts at $11 per month for employee coverage in some markets and has a $1,000 deductible. The "freedom plan" starts at about $17 per month for employee coverage but has a deductible of $3,000 and the option to create a health savings account. The cheapest monthly cost for an employee and his or her spouse is $38 with a deductible of $6,000.

"We've done the math on this, and we have a pretty good understanding of what this is going to mean," Fogleman said. "Most associates are going to come out better on this."

Wake-Up Wal-Mart disagrees. It has accused the company of depressing wages and benefits, forcing many of its workers to seek public health care.

"Wal-Mart is cruelly hurting its employees, cutting health-care options and shifting costs on to the American taxpayer," said Paul Blank, campaign director for Wake-Up Wal-Mart.

Paul Fronstin, director of health research and education at the Employee Benefit Research Institute, said the new Wal-Mart changes look "pretty standard." But he noted that a biweekly increase in a surcharge from $50 to $75 for spouses who have access to other medical coverage seemed high.

"There is always shifting going on, and it tends to be modest at best. It might be that way here as well," he said.

Fogleman said that about 615,000 employees are covered by the company, about 47 percent of its workforce, and Wal-Mart is working to expand that number.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company