Sunday, December 31, 2006

Christians accuse Wal-Mart of exploitation

From Monsters and
Religion News
Christians accuse Wal-Mart of exploitation
Dec 20, 2006, 18:55 GMT

DALLAS, TX, United States (UPI) -- A group of Baptist pastors and leaders has spoken out against Wal-Mart for exploiting workers to increase profits. The self-styled low-price leader has also recently come under attack from pro-gay groups for backpedaling on diversity initiatives.

Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, recently lead the charge against Wal-Mart on national TV. He appeared Dec. 15 on CNBC`s 'On The Money' to discuss a letter and television ad in which Joe Phelps, pastor of Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., demanded the retailer adhere to the Golden Rule -- Jesus` command to 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you,' Associated Baptist Press reported Tuesday.

The TV ad, which aired Dec. 14 in 25 states and 43 markets, was funded by the union-backed The group accuses the company of gender-based discrimination, child-labor law violations, and failure to provide health care to workers.

Parham appeared on CNBC opposite Ira Combs, pastor of Greater Bible Way of the Apostolic Faith in Jackson, Mich., who defended Wal-Mart for its history of creating jobs and providing inexpensive goods in low-income neighborhoods.

On the show, Parham said Jesus would be 'more concerned about health care for the children of Wal-Mart employees than low prices.'

'When we celebrate Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, who gave us the moral imperative, the Golden Rule, and ... we believe that the Golden Rule challenges American consumers to think about where they should shop,' he said in the interview, which is archived on CNBC`s website.

Parham said all people of faith affirm the value of the Golden Rule, so Wal-Mart should 'strive to be a Golden Rule company -- not follow secondary standards and seek only profit for a few....'

Combs responded by pointing out that Wal-Mart is 'not running for sainthood' but operates in a capitalist, free-market system. He said the store has become a target simply because it meets consumer needs better than competitors. In a subsequent recap of the event, Parham noted Combs serves on an advisory group recruited by Wal-Mart to counter negative public opinion.

'I think that the problem here is this is not really a theological question and debate, this is really an ideological one, which deals with social and economic issues,' Combs said. He also blamed Parham for philosophy 'steeped in a great deal of the union philosophical bent with regard to how these businesses and corporations should operate and carry out their business.'

On the TV spot, Phelps asked shoppers: 'If these are Wal-Mart`s values, would Jesus shop at Wal-Mart? Should you?'

Apparently, the answer is no. In a column that appeared on, Phelps said shopping at Wal-Mart is 'an insult to God ... What we buy matters to others and to God.'

Phelps said he made the ad to 'wake up the American consumer, especially those with Bible values, to the reality that our buying power has real power to affect a lot of people around the world.'

'Everyone wants lower prices, but not at the expense of neighbors who work for Wal-Mart, or people around the world who make their products,' he wrote. 'Our purchasing choices are the crucial link in granting companies like Wal-Mart our tacit permission and our financial support to continue practices that exploit the young, the vulnerable, and the working poor.'

A spokeswoman for Working Families for Wal-Mart, a group formed to defend the store, called the ad campaign 'shameful,' especially during the holidays. 'While the union leaders are wasting their members` dues on an attack campaign, Wal-Mart is benefiting tens of millions of working families through its low prices and quality job opportunities,' she said in a press statement.

More than 176 million people shop at Wal-Mart each week. The retailer has more than 1.8 million employees worldwide, 1 million of whom have health plans, according to the Wal-Mart website.

Phelps is a board member of the Baptist Center for Ethics, which commissioned a petition letter to the same effect as the TV commercial. The letter, drafted by Parham, was sent in partnership with to Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott. As of Dec. 19, 132 people had signed it, including activist Tony Campolo, seminary professors and many Baptist pastors.

Calling themselves 'moral theologians,' the signers said: 'We believe that Wal-Mart has been given and entrusted with much wealth, power and influence,' the letter said. 'Wal-Mart`s leaders need to recognize their moral obligations to be good stewards of what the corporation has been given and entrusted, not simply through acts of charity but with justice for working-family employees who have built, but not necessarily benefited, from Wal-Mart`s vast earnings.'

WakeUpWalMart is sponsored by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

Copyright 2006 by United Press International

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Friday, December 29, 2006

p Five Companies We’d Be Better Off Without, #4: Wal-Mart

Thursday, November 30, 2006
Top Five Companies We’d Be Better Off Without, #4: Wal-Mart
Author: Nick
Category: Money
Tags: business

Number Four on my list of companies that ought to be removed from the space-time continuum is probably Number One on a lot of people’s lists: Wal-Mart.

The Big W has earned the ire of countless websites, its own employees, and even entire cities.

So if nobody likes Wal-Mart, why isn’t it the #1 company we’d be better off without? The answer to that question is the same as the answer to this question: if nobody likes Wal-Mart, why is it still around?

The answer: because people still shop there, and they always will. Some have no choice because they can’t afford to shop anywhere else. I was in that boat myself just a few years ago. I’m still occasionally forced to shop there because they carry a lot of stuff in one place, and the convenience is too much to resist. Bad Nick, bad.

Wal-Mart may be evil, but it has made itself into a necessary evil for many people. While the world might be better off without it in the long run, there’d be a lot of hurting for low-income families in the meantime.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Teenager locked inside gun safe at Wal-Mart

Teenager locked inside gun safe at Wal-Mart

STAFFORD, Va. There was some drama at a Stafford Wal-Mart yesterday after a teenage girl somehow became locked in a gun safe.

Assistant Chief Roger Sutherland of the Stafford County Fire and Rescue Department says the store manager reported a child playing in the sporting good section had gotten locked inside a safe.

Sutherland says rescue workers pumped extra air into the safe as a precaution, even though it had ventilation.

No one was sure how the 15-year-old became stuck.

The manager initially couldn't get the combination to work and rescue workers were about to force their way in when the manager finally managed to open it. The whole thing took about 30 minutes.

Witnesses say the girl was crying during and after the incident, but otherwise seemed O-K.

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

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Wal-Mart Wins Ruling on Foreign Labor

December 19, 2006
Wal-Mart Wins Ruling on Foreign Labor

Wal-Mart Stores cannot be held liable under United States law for labor conditions at some of its overseas suppliers, a federal judge has ruled.

A complaint filed last year in Los Angeles by the International Labor Rights Fund contended that employees of Wal-Mart suppliers in China, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Swaziland and Nicaragua were forced to work overtime without pay and in some cases were fired because they tried to organize unions. The group sought to represent hundreds of thousands of employees of Wal-Mart’s overseas suppliers.

The foreign workers sued as third-party beneficiaries to Wal-Mart’s contracts with garment factories outside the United States. The complaint said that the contracts required suppliers in the five countries to comply with local labor standards and that what the plaintiffs deemed the company’s failure to enforce those terms meant the employees were working under “sweatshop” conditions.

Judge Andrew Guilford of United States District Court in Central California said in a preliminary ruling Dec. 12 that the facts presented by the labor rights group did not support the claim for breach of contract or negligence.

Lawyers for the workers will be allowed to file an amended complaint, according to the ruling.

“This is basically a local wage and hours violations case and should be handled in those countries,” said Beth Keck, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart. “It is very inappropriate that Wal-Mart should be made part of this.”

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Monday, December 25, 2006

Tariff waivers signed into law

Tariff waivers signed into law
This article was published on Wednesday, December 20, 2006 6:11 PM CST in News
By Aaron Sadler
The Morning News

WASHINGTON -- President Bush on Thursday signed into law a wide-ranging bill that included hundreds of tax breaks on imported goods, including some benefiting Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart will save on eliminated or reduced tariffs for clock radios, rubber floor mats and nail clippers among other items.

Broad tax legislation containing 520 tariff suspensions was approved on the last day of Congress' term earlier this month.

Critics of tariff suspensions charge they amount to special-interest legislation benefiting a small number of companies that profit from not having to pay fees on goods they import and then sell to U.S. consumers.

Others, like Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., said the practice helps home-state interests and home-state jobs. She sponsored many of the provisions benefiting the giant Bentonville-based corporation.

"The process is a customary practice that is intended to make products that are not domestically produced more affordable to customers," Lincoln said in a statement. "I am happy to help any Arkansas company pass along savings to customers."

Congress passed more than 800 tariff suspension bills during its most recent term, estimated to cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Lincoln also sponsored bills to reduce or eliminate tariffs for chemicals used by Ciba Chemicals, with operations in West Memphis, and Eastman Chemical Company, which has a plant in Batesville. Those tariff suspensions also were rolled into the legislation Bush signed into law.

In September, Lincoln backed away from another piece of legislation suspending tariffs on imported dog collars, leashes and muzzles. An upstate New York woman complained to the U.S. International Trade Commission the 2.4 percent tariff reduction could jeopardize her domestic operation. Tariffs are instituted not only as a way to generate revenue, but to also shield American manufacturers from foreign competition. Companies often request tariff suspensions when no domestic manufacturer produces an item.

The bill Bush signed into law suspends tariffs until 2009 for clock radios and AM radios without a clock. Tariffs for certain rubber floor mats and manicure/pedicure sets would fall from 2.7 percent and 4.1 percent, respectively, to 1.96 percent.

All four tariff measures were requested by Wal-Mart.

A Wal-Mart spokeswoman did not return a call Wednesday seeking comment.

The clock radio waiver was estimated to cost $855,000 annually in lost federal revenue, while the AM radio suspension will cost less than $3,000 annually, according to trade commission estimates.

Reductions on manicure sets were estimated to cost about $588,000 this year up to $770,000 in 2010. Lost revenue from the floor mat waiver is estimated at $784,000 by 2010.

All content © The Morning News. Unauthorized distribution prohibited.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Bratz dolls made under harsh working conditions: report

Bratz dolls made under harsh working conditions: report
Last Updated: Friday, December 22, 2006 8:28 AM ET
The Associated Press

The pouty Bratz dolls so popular as Christmas presents are made at a factory in southern China where workers are obliged to toil up to 94 hours a week, among other violations, a labour rights group said in a report released Friday.

The report by U.S.-based China Labour Watch and the National Labour Committee details allegations of harsh working conditions, especially during peak delivery months, and of violations of workers' rights to injury and health insurance.

The edgy, urban-styled rival to Barbie is made by a subcontractor in the southern export hub of Shenzhen, as is typical of many products sold in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Workers are paid the equivalent of 17 cents US for each doll, the report said, while the dolls retail for $16 US a piece or more.

Calls to the Van Nuys, Calif., headquarters of MGA Entertainment Inc., which launched the Bratz brand in 2001, were not answered and there was no immediate response to an e-mailed inquiry to the company's public relations office.

Calls to the China-based spokesman for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., a main distributor of the dolls, went unanswered Friday.

The allegations in the report describe practices found at many Chinese factories producing name-brand products for export. They include required overtime exceeding the legal maximum of 36 hours a month, forcing workers to stay on the job to meet stringent production quotas and the denial of paid sick leave and other benefits.

The report shows copies of what it says are "cheat sheets" distributed to workers before auditors from Wal-Mart or other customers arrive to ensure the factory passes inspections intended to ensure the supplier meets labour standards.

It said workers at the factory intended to go on strike soon to protest plans by factory managers to put all employees on temporary contracts, denying them legal protection required for long-term employees.

More than 120 million Bratz dolls have been sold since the toy debuted in 2001.

© The Canadian Press, 2006

Copyright © CBC 2006

Dayton commission urges Wal-Mart to value workers

Dayton commission urges Wal-Mart to value workers
By Joanne Huist Smith
Staff Writer
Thursday, December 21, 2006

DAYTON — The Dayton City Commission sent a message to Wal-Mart on Wednesday, calling on the nation's biggest discount chain to treat its employees fairly and with dignity.

Supporters claim the commission's resolution is the first of its kind in the nation.

About 100 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1099, acting with Wake-Up Wal-Mart, crowded into the commission chambers to ask for support in their fight to encourage the corporation to provide affordable health care for all employees, living wages and a fair workplace.

The commission endorsed the union's efforts in an informal resolution. Commissioner Joey Williams abstained.

"The passage of this resolution is the first of its kind in the nation," Bill Dudley, director of organizing and strategic operations for the union, which represents 20,000 Kroger, CVS and Meijer employees in southwest Ohio. The commission plans to send a copy of the resolution to Wal-Mart corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.

"We're making a statement because Wal-Mart is a large employer," said Dayton Mayor Rhine McLin. "We expect Wal-Mart to lead by example."

Brigid Kelly, political coordinator for the union, said they're not trying to unionize Wal-Mart employees.

"We're asking Wal-Mart to treat their employees and the community better," Kelly said. "Employees there don't have the benefit of having a union like we do."

Marisa Bluestone, Wal-Mart spokeswoman, said the company would appreciate an opportunity to respond to the allegations to the city commission.

"We're a good community partner," Bluestone said. "Our superstores each donate $30,000 to $50,000 a year to local communities for education, police and fire."

Bluestone said employee wages are based on years of experience and that the average full-time hourly worker earns $10.11 per hour in the United Sates and has 18 health-care plans to choose among.

"Three-quarters of our store managers began as hourly employees," she said.

Copyright ©2006 Cox Ohio Publishing, Dayton, Ohio, USA. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 18, 2006

U.S. judge may toss suit blaming Wal-Mart for Third World sweatshops

U.S. judge may toss suit blaming Wal-Mart for Third World sweatshops
The Associated Press
Published: December 15, 2006

SANTA ANA, California: A judge is expected to toss a class-action lawsuit blaming Wal-Mart for alleged sweatshop conditions in five Third World countries that supply the retail giant.

U.S. District Judge Andrew J. Guilford, who heard arguments Monday and said he would issue a decision later, indicated he would dismiss all claims against Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

The suit, filed on behalf of garment factory workers in China, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Swaziland and Nicaragua, alleged Wal-Mart broke a promise to enforce its "Standards for Suppliers" demanding foreign companies obey local labor laws and treat workers fairly.

The suit, filed in October 2005, also alleged Wal-Mart misled Californians by promoting the standards policy as reason to shop at its stores. The suit asks for injunctions to protect the workers and enforce the standards.

One allegation in the lawsuit is that Wal-Mart violated the 1789 Alien Tort Claims Act by allowing suppliers to withhold pay from foreign workers.

Guilford wrote in a tentative ruling that he "is sympathetic to the plight of the plaintiffs" but added the alien tort law must be applied narrowly.

"Plaintiffs' theory of liability would have broad applications if accepted," the judge wrote. "Such a rule would support a federal claim for relief whenever any employee was denied pay ... while living under difficult economic conditions."

The suit seeks damages for thousands of workers that could amount to "perhaps millions of dollars," plaintiffs' attorney Anne K. Richardson said.

The main contention of plaintiffs is they have the right as "third-party beneficiaries" to enforce the contracts between Wal-Mart and its global suppliers.

Wal-Mart requires foreign manufacturers to obey its supplier standards, which are included in the contracts, but the retailer failed to conduct proper inspections as promised, the suit said.

If Guilford rules against the plaintiffs, the judge said they could amend their complaint and try again. Richardson said Thursday that she and other plaintiffs' lawyers will likely refile or appeal if the judge tosses the suit.

Plaintiffs' attorney Terry Collingsworth of the International Labor Rights Fund in Washington noted workers in places such as China cannot sue their local employers.

"This is their sole place to try to be heard," Collingsworth said.

Copyright © 2006 the International Herald Tribune All rights reserved

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Bad Meat? Wal-Mart Doesn’t Care.

Bad Meat? Wal-Mart Doesn’t Care.

A news team in Wisconsin does the gassed meat story again and guess what large grocery chain was one of the losers?:

We went shopping back in July. We bought packages of ground beef from stores all over the area. Within a couple of weeks, many of the packages had turned brown or green and smelled bad. But some remained bright red, looking fresh.

The FDA says it’s OK for a meat packer to add carbon monoxide to its products. The meat is then packed in a handy, airtight container. We found those containers at Aldi and Super Wal-mart in Mukwonago. We suspected the packages contained carbon monoxide, because weeks after the expiration dates passed, the meats were still bright red.

We took those bright red packages of meat to a food scientist at SF Analytical labs in West Allis in November - four months after buying them.

“That looks good,” said Mark Moyer, our expert. But when we popped the containers open…

“That’s just rancid. That’s rancid meat,” he said, breathing through a mask we had provided him to help alleviate the smell.

The problem? Some of the meat still looked good.

“The worst case is that there’s e. coli or salmonella in there,” Moyer told us. “There’s a deception there, this one obviously looks good, and it’s way past.”

As bad as it was, one package bought more recently - just six weeks ago - didn’t smell bad. It didn’t look bad either. “There’s a possibility somebody could get sick eating that,” Moyer explained his concerns.

What you need to remember is that months ago Wal-Mart claimed it had already stopped selling carbon monoxide treated meat.

In the end though, I’m no longer surprised by stuff like this. Remember the Nazi t-shirts that still aren’t off the shelves (as of last week)? Besides, how can Wal-Mart control what gasses their suppliers use when they’ve outsourced the cutting process to those suppliers at the same time they regularly shake them down for ever-lower prices.

Now more than ever: Only a fool would eat meat from Wal-Mart.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Behind the scenes, PR firm remakes Wal-Mart's image

Behind the scenes, PR firm remakes Wal-Mart's image
Thursday, December 07, 2006
By Kris Hudson, The Wall Street Journal

Over the last year, Lee Scott has appeared on the Rev. Al Sharpton's radio show, talked about pro-environment policies and given speeches that repeatedly state his organization's devotion to "working families."

If Mr. Scott, the chief executive of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., seems like he's running for office, it's no accident. For the last 15 months, the Edelman public-relations firm, led by seasoned political operatives, has been directing a campaign it calls "Candidate Wal-Mart." The goal: Rescue the battered image of the world's largest retailer.

Edelman's bipartisan team has been behind the curtain during Wal-Mart's most visible recent initiatives -- and some of its public stumbles. When Wal-Mart decided to sell an array of generic drugs for $4 a prescription, Edelman orchestrated a 49-state rollout, lining up local dignitaries in 79 places for publicity events. The PR giant also organized a grass-roots group called Working Families for Wal-Mart. But it had to scramble when the leader it helped recruit, Andrew Young, made derogatory comments about ethnic shopkeepers and was forced to resign.

Wal-Mart badly needs a boost. Its sales growth has waned in recent years and an effort to reach out to higher-earning shoppers has sputtered, partly because of the company's beleaguered image. Sales at stores open more than a year fell 0.1 percent in the four weeks ending Nov. 24 -- only the second monthly drop in 27 years. This year Wal-Mart scaled back expansion plans amid pressure from investors and political opposition in New York, Massachusetts, California and elsewhere.

As Edelman and Wal-Mart see it, image is crucial for drawing customers, smoothing the way for new stores in urban areas and beating back legislation that would raise costs. "This is not a public-relations campaign," says Michael Deaver, a former chief of staff for President Reagan who is now helping to oversee the Wal-Mart account as an Edelman vice chairman. "It's a win-or-lose campaign. And if you've been involved in a presidential campaign, that's the way you look at things."

Leslie Dach, a former adviser to Democratic politicians, led the campaign's first year as an Edelman vice chairman. Now Mr. Dach is a Wal-Marter in full: In July, the retailer hired him as an executive vice president for communications and government relations, reporting directly to Mr. Scott, the CEO.

For years Wal-Mart did little to promote itself as a positive social force, believing its low prices would speak for themselves. But as it mushroomed to become one of the world's biggest companies -- with 6,700 stores and $312 billion in sales last year -- it increasingly felt the sting of public criticism and pressure to fight back.

The pressure grew last year when unions started two organizations to hammer Wal-Mart: the Service Employees International Union's Wal-Mart Watch and, funded by the United Food and Commercial Workers union. At Wal-Mart's annual meeting on June 3, 2005, Mr. Scott said: "Your company is the focus of one of the most well-organized and well-financed corporate campaigns in history ... A coalition of unions and others are spending over $25 million this year alone to try to do damage to this company."

A few weeks later, on June 28, two dozen Wal-Mart executives sat behind tables at a community-college conference center in Bentonville, Ark., Wal-Mart's hometown. They heard pitches from three PR firms chosen as finalists -- Edelman, APCO Worldwide and DCI Group.

In their "Candidate Wal-Mart" pitch, Messrs. Dach and Deaver of Edelman described a campaign with all the trappings of a U.S. presidential bid. A war room of publicists would respond quickly to attacks or adverse news. Operatives would be assigned to drum up popular support for Wal-Mart via Internet blogs and grass-roots initiatives. Skeptical outside groups, such as environmentalists, would be recruited to team up with Wal-Mart. Edelman won and quickly put its plan into practice, with three dozen staffers working on the account in Washington, D.C., and Bentonville.

Wal-Mart had been mulling the $4-per-prescription program before Edelman's arrival, but the firm saw it as a chance to promote Wal-Mart as a catalyst for health-care change. In late September, Wal-Mart executives gathered with Florida officials, including Gov. Jeb Bush, to announce the program's introduction in the Tampa area. That generated national coverage, despite Wal-Mart's initial statements that it wouldn't expand the program beyond Tampa until 2007. Then the company rolled it out in rapid-fire succession to 48 other states, declaring that the low-cost pills were so popular it didn't want to keep people waiting.

The acceleration of the program earned new national coverage, but even more important were local news outlets. The 79 news conferences arranged by Edelman across the country helped the effort win notices from The Dallas Morning News, Vermont's Burlington Free Press and others.

Privately held Edelman is the largest U.S. public relations firm with 2005 revenue of $254 million and clients such as Microsoft Corp. and Pfizer Inc. (Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal, has also been a client.) Both Wal-Mart and Edelman decline to disclose Edelman's fee, but outside estimates put it in the millions of dollars annually.

Mr. Dach, a slightly built 52-year-old, was born and raised in the New York City borough of Queens, son of a homemaker and a small-business owner in Manhattan's garment district. He studied neurobiology at Yale but quickly was drawn to politics, working on the advance teams of Sen. Edward Kennedy and President Carter during their 1980 presidential bids.

He went on to play prominent advisory roles for Democrats in five of the next six presidential campaigns. He prepared Al Gore for debates in 2000 and handled publicity for Democratic efforts in 2004 to keep Ralph Nader off the ballot in several states. In between campaigns, he spent 17 years at Edelman advising clients such as a Fujifilm Corp. division and the Nature Conservancy.

Mr. Dach believes his experience trouble-shooting for political candidates can be applied to the corporate world. "Every crisis is an opportunity," he said in a recent interview. "The American people understand imperfection. But what they want to see is a company taking responsibility and then moving forward."

Soon after getting hired by Wal-Mart, Edelman found an opening. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Wal-Mart rushed to reopen its stores and speed supplies to the storm-damaged areas. Edelman helped Wal-Mart get coverage for its efforts and spotlighted Jason Jackson, the retailer's emergency-planning director. Mr. Jackson gave interviews, spoke on a conference call with reporters and gave some a peek into his command center for tracking weather and routing supplies.

After the storm, evacuees and local officials proclaimed in the news that Wal-Mart had outhustled the federal government. Also, Wal-Mart quickly made a $15 million donation to the hurricane-relief fund organized by former Presidents Clinton and Bush. The two ex-presidents praised Wal-Mart's generosity.

Another early Edelman initiative was Working Families for Wal-Mart, the grass-roots organization. The idea was to allow Wal-Mart's defenders to strike back against critics without requiring the company's own PR staff to enter the fray. Wal-Mart provided the group's funding and Edelman staffed it.

Edelman executive Greg St. Claire played a leading role in recruiting Mr. Young, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, as the group's chairman, according to people who spoke with Mr. St. Claire. They say Mr. St. Claire told colleagues how Mr. Young had praised Wal-Mart in public comments. Wal-Mart says its diversity department came up with the idea of bringing in Mr. Young. Mr. St. Claire declined to comment and Mr. Young's office didn't return phone messages.

Others recruited by Edelman for the group's 14-member steering committee include Wheelchair Foundation vice president Chris Lewis, the son of entertainer Jerry Lewis, and singer Pat Boone. In its first year, Working Families for Wal-Mart reports amassing 150,000 supporters and assembling steering committees of local dignitaries in six states.

Yet the Working Families group has produced some of Edelman's worst fumbles, too. Union-backed Wal-Mart Watch swooped in to claim the Web address, and posted statements there mocking the company-backed group as artificial. In August of this year, Mr. Young raised a stir when he told an African-American newspaper in California that Jewish, Korean and Arab shopkeepers overcharged inner-city African-Americans for stale food. He had been asked about Wal-Mart's impact on mom-and-pop businesses. Mr. Young apologized and resigned from Working Families for Wal-Mart.

In October, bloggers and mainstream media criticized Working Families for Wal-Mart for not disclosing the full identities of two people -- one the sister of Edelman's Mr. St. Claire -- whom it enlisted to write a pro-company blog. The two drove an RV around the country and posted happy accounts of the Wal-Mart customers and employees they encountered. Edelman's chief executive, Richard Edelman, apologized on his own blog for the lack of disclosure.

The faux pas had union groups crowing. "Edelman stumbled badly on the Wal-Mart account, and the fake-blog episode is fast becoming a case study on the importance of PR transparency," said Wal-Mart Watch spokesman Nu Wexler.

In its pitch for the account, Edelman had warned Wal-Mart that Google results for a "Wal-Mart" search yielded mostly unflattering material, potentially overshadowing the company's own sites. Edelman sought to balance that equation by funneling positive information about Wal-Mart to bloggers. For example, news that 24,500 people applied for 325 jobs at a new Wal-Mart outside of Chicago made its way onto some blogs.

Edelman has also tried to help Wal-Mart gain some control over the issue of health care. In October 2005, Wal-Mart Watch distributed an internal Wal-Mart document detailing strategies for cutting health-benefit costs by discouraging unhealthy job applicants. In January, Maryland enacted a law targeting Wal-Mart that required large employers to spend certain amounts on health-care benefits for workers in the state. The law spurred similar bills prompted by labor groups in more than two dozen states.

Mr. Dach pushed Mr. Scott to discuss health in a February speech to the National Governors Association. "Everybody was telling Leslie, 'We can't do health care now. We don't want to talk about health care.' But Leslie just kept at it," says Mr. Deaver. Mr. Scott took Mr. Dach's advice, announcing in his Edelman-drafted speech that Wal-Mart would improve health benefits for its workers by such steps as loosening eligibility requirements for part-timers.

Company officials are heartened that none of the bills modeled on Maryland's law survived this year, although that may have more to do with a federal judge's decision in July to strike down the Maryland law because he said it encroached on federal authority.

In Mr. Scott's speech at this year's annual meeting, he used an Edelman-inspired line with political echoes: "This company is committed to working families." In all, Mr. Scott used the expression "working families" 10 times in that speech, which Edelman wrote, and 11 times in two other talks around the same time. Since Edelman's hiring, Wal-Mart has issued at least 44 press releases mentioning working families to describe its customers and employees.

Later in the summer, Edelman booked Mr. Scott in several unfamiliar forums, such as Mr. Sharpton's radio show, where the CEO fielded questions from listeners. In July, Mr. Dach arranged for former Vice President Al Gore to speak about environmental issues and screen his global-warming movie "An Inconvenient Truth" at a quarterly meeting of Wal-Mart employees and environmental groups. Mr. Gore's camp initially had concerns about Wal-Mart's sincerity on the issue, but Mr. Dach helped allay them. "Leslie brings some credibility and integrity," said Roy Neel, Mr. Gore's chief of staff.

This summer, Wal-Mart decided to bring Mr. Dach in-house. Mr. Dach was already so intimately involved in planning that he sometimes heard of key developments within Wal-Mart prior to the company's own senior PR staffers, according to people familiar with the situation. Wednesday, Robert McAdam, who has been a top Wal-Mart PR executive since 2000, told colleagues he is leaving the retailer. In an interview, Mr. McAdam said his departure has nothing to do with Mr. Dach's arrival.

In hiring Mr. Dach, Wal-Mart granted him stock then valued at $3 million and nearly 169,000 options. The retailer allows him to split his time between Bentonville and Washington, D.C., with Washington remaining his primary residence. He also gained oversight of the $1 billion Wal-Mart Foundation, a charitable group. "I'm convinced Wal-Mart is changing and the change is real," Mr. Dach wrote in an email to friends announcing the move.

Copyright ©1997-2006 PG Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

NYC Comptroller Calls On Wal-Mart To Report Labor Standards

NYC Comptroller Calls On Wal-Mart To Report Labor Standards
For Immediate Release
Friday, December 08
(202) 557-7440

New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr., on behalf of the New York City Employees’ Retirement System, is calling on Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. to address the “social and reputational” impact by fully informing shareholders about its labor standards.

Thompson filed a shareholder resolution calling on the company’s Board of Directors to issue a report “on the negative social and reputational impacts of reported and known cases of management non-compliance with International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions and standards on workers’ rights and the company’s legal and regulatory controls.”

The report – to be filed by September 2007 - should include the Board’s actions and recommendations to improve compliance.

“Investors, consumers and civil society increasingly are demanding that companies adopt good governance policies to promote sustainable business development, which includes the protection of human rights, process transparency, and disclosure of compliance by directors and management,” Thompson said. “Companies that do not incorporate such non-financial factors in their indicators of success could fail to win the support of investors, consumers and other stakeholders.”

The New York City Employees’ Retirement System, or NYCERS, holds NYCERS had 2,953,214 shares of Wal-Mart Stores valued at $138,086,972.

Thompson, in the resolution, detailed efforts across the country to either stop Wal-Mart Stores, headquartered in Bentonville, AR, from setting up operations or to prompt the company to pay higher wages and benefits to its employees.

The measure points to court rulings and settlements aimed at improving treatment of workers in Pennsylvania and Colorado, and cites a Wal-Mart Stores-sanctioned study that found that as much as 8 percent of the company’s customers have stopped shopping at its stores because of its reputation.

In June 2006, Investment & Pensions Europe reported that the Norwegian Government Pension Fund – Global investment universe excluded Wal-Mart Stores because of alleged serious and systemic human rights violations.

“I am proud that NYCERS is taking this stand for worker’s rights. New York City should be a national leader in the fight for fair labor standards,” said New York City Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum. “Companies that do not take sufficient steps to ensure their workers are treated properly do not deserve our workers’ pension funds.”

“Responsible governance practices and compliance with legal standards translate into sustained positive business outcomes that benefit the investor, consumer and economy,” added Borough President Scott Stringer. “Companies as pervasive and high profile as Wal-Mart must build responsible policies and practices and make them publicly available in order to garner investment and support from stakeholders and consumers.”

You can view the City’s proposal at:

© 2005 is a campaign of Five Stones and The Center for Community and Corporate Ethics. This site is in no way connected with Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. or any affiliate of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Group accuses Chinese suppliers to Wal-Mart of underpaying, mistreating workers

Group accuses Chinese suppliers to Wal-Mart of underpaying, mistreating workers
The Associated Press
Published: December 8, 2006

BEIJING: Several Chinese suppliers of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. fail to pay legally required wages or provide health insurance and allow poor working conditions, a Hong Kong-based labor group says.

A Wal-Mart spokesman said Friday it was looking into the claims in a report issued this week by China Labor Watch. Managers at two companies cited in the report denied the accusations.

China Labor Watch said a survey of 15 Wal-Mart suppliers found that some pay as little as half the minimum daily wage, require mandatory overtime or provide no health insurance. It said one company provides a single bathroom for 2,000 employees.

The status of employees at foreign companies or their suppliers is a sensitive issue in China.

"We treat the issues as mentioned in this report seriously and will look into them. If found true, we will address them in an aggressive manner," a Wal-Mart spokesman, Jonathan Dong, said in an e-mail.

"Wal-Mart is committed to ethical sourcing and works continuously to strengthen our efforts in monitoring supplier factories," he said.

Dong said he couldn't immediately confirm whether the companies cited by China Labor Watch were Wal-Mart suppliers.

The group said its report was based on a survey of 169 employees at 15 companies.

It said one employer, Winbo Industry Co., pays as little as 2 yuan (25 U.S. cents; 20 euro cents) per hour — less than half the legal minimum of 4.66 yuan (58 U.S. cents; 46 euro cents) in Guangdong province, where its factory is located.

It said Winbo and others fined employees up to one hour's pay for being one minute late to work, are overdue in paying back wages and have threatened to fire those who fail to work overtime.

Winbo's foreign trade manager denied the accusations.

"The information you had is totally wrong and Wal-Mart is not our customer," said the manager, who would give only his surname, Zhuang.

The manager of another company cited, Yongfeng Shoe Manufacturing Co., also denied the claims.

"We never owed wages to workers and workers' wages are based on regulations," said the manager, Hu Tianfei. He said the company has been a Wal-Mart supplier for 10 years.

Phone calls on Friday to the other two companies identified by name in the report — Taishan Watch Factory and Taiqiang Manufacturing Factory — weren't answered. All the companies cited in the report are located in the southern province of Guangdong, the site of thousands of small factories that supply China's export industries.

Wal-Mart is a prominent presence in China, with 68 stores and 36,000 employees, and in 2004 bought US$18 billion worth of Chinese goods, such as shoes and furniture, either directly or indirectly for sale abroad.

Worldwide, Wal-Mart audited 13,600 of its suppliers' factories last year, according to Dong, the spokesman at its China headquarters in the southern city of Shenzhen.

Wal-Mart was the target this year of a union-organizing campaign by China's government-sanctioned labor group.

After resisting unionizing efforts for two years, the company agreed in August to cooperate with the All-China Federation of Trade Unions to set up unions at all of its China outlets.

Also this year, Apple Computer Inc. was caught up in a controversy over claims of abuses at a Chinese factory run by a Taiwanese company that produces its iPod music players.

Apple issued a report in August saying it found some violations of its code of conduct at the factory run by a subsidiary of Taiwan's Foxconn Technology Group but no serious abuses.

Copyright © 2006 the International Herald Tribune All rights reserved

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Wal-Mart Girds for Showdown With New Congress on Unions, Trade

Wal-Mart Girds for Showdown With New Congress on Unions, Trade
By Kim Chipman and Lauren Coleman-Lochner

Dec. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc., long an ally of Republicans, has spent the last two years ramping up political donations to Democrats. The company will soon find out whether that bet will pay off.

The world's largest retailer will contend next year with a Democratic-led Congress with close ties to organized labor. Democratic leaders say one of their priorities is a bill opposed by Wal-Mart making it easier for workers at the non-union company to organize. Lawmakers may also block Wal-Mart's plans to operate a bank and thwart trade deals that allow the company to import goods at low prices.

Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart says it wants to persuade lawmakers that criticism of its labor practices is unwarranted and that free trade helps consumers. The company has enlisted at least one Democratic ally, Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, and has given money to the Congressional Black Caucus, a group of 43 Democratic lawmakers.

``We're optimistic,'' says Lee Culpepper, who heads lobbying efforts in Washington for Wal-Mart. ``Our opportunity to build relationships will probably lead to an increase'' in donations to Democrats.

Wal-Mart has one of the nation's biggest corporate political-action committees, giving $1.2 million to federal candidates for the 2006 elections. While only 32 percent went to Democrats, that was up from 1.7 percent 10 years ago, according to PoliticalMoneyLine, a Washington-based company that tracks money in politics.

``One of the things we decided to do at the beginning of 2005 was to try to do a better job building relationships and political support on both sides of the aisle, but in particular with Democrats,'' Culpepper says.

Arkansas Ally

In the Senate, Lincoln is considered Wal-Mart's strongest Democratic advocate. Over the last decade, she received almost $100,000 in campaign cash from Wal-Mart, its executives and the heirs of company founder Sam Walton, according to Federal Election Commission data. Lincoln has supported the company's efforts to suspend tariffs on imported goods sold at Wal-Mart's U.S. stores.

Wal-Mart is the ``largest employer in my home state,'' Lincoln said in a statement. ``I know they understand their responsibility as an industry leader to set a higher standard with regard to employee and customer benefits, corporate citizenship and community involvement.''

Wal-Mart's attempts to woo members of the Congressional Black Caucus include endowing a $1 million scholarship grant administered by the group. Last year, eight members of the caucus who received contributions from Wal-Mart voted against a measure that would have ended the Labor Department's policy of giving the company notice before starting any investigations of alleged wage-and-hour violations. The measure was defeated.

Black Caucus

Members of the caucus, including Representatives Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Al Wynn of Maryland, didn't return calls seeking comment.

Wal-Mart's efforts to reach out to more Democrats may not be enough to soften the anti-Wal-Mart stance of critics such as Representative George Miller of California and Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, who will head panels overseeing labor issues. Both have said they will try to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which would force companies to recognize unions when employees sign a card expressing their desire to organize.

Wal-Mart, which has fought prior attempts to unionize its U.S. workers, says it would oppose such a bill.


The company also may be subject to investigations of its labor practices by the labor panels, which have the power to subpoena executives, says Andy Laperriere, political economist at International Strategy & Investment, a Wall Street advisory firm.

``Wal-Mart may get the tobacco-industry treatment from this new Congress,'' Laperriere says. The company may also face opposition from newly elected lawmakers who benefited from union support in their campaigns.

Democratic Senator-elect James Webb of Virginia says Wal- Mart is a symptom of the failure of U.S. trade policy, which penalizes American workers and industries by flooding the market with cheap imports and making it too easy for companies to export jobs overseas.

Webb and other Democratic lawmakers who seek stricter labor provisions in trade deals may hurt Wal-Mart's ability to get trade-related concessions that help the company curb costs.


``Trade might be more difficult'' with the new Congress, Culpepper says.

Democrats such as Kennedy say voter concerns about job security, flat wage growth and a widening gap between rich and poor were part of the reason Democrats were able to sweep both chambers of Congress for the first time in 14 years in last month's elections.

``Wal-Mart already is in the crosshairs of a lot of Democratic gunslingers these days, and we can expect a lot more rhetoric about the company being irresponsible,'' says Robert Reich, secretary of labor under former President Bill Clinton.

For now, Wal-Mart, the country's largest private employer, says it supports one of the Democrats' top priorities -- raising the national minimum wage of $5.15 an hour for the first time in almost 10 years. Chief Executive Officer H. Lee Scott has said an increase would be good for his customers.

Democratic leaders have said they will try to pass a minimum-wage measure in the first 100 hours of the new session in January.

Banking Application

One of the company's first congressional fights may center on its application with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to own an industrial bank.

Representative Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat who is in line to become chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, has said he opposes allowing commercial companies such as Wal-Mart to own industrial banks, which offer services such as processing credit-card transactions.

``There's a sense that when they do expand into a field, they start a race to the bottom,'' Frank said in an interview earlier this year.

Culpepper says he expects the FDIC to announce a decision in January and won't comment until then. The company says it wants to own a bank so it can save on the fees it pays third parties to process transactions.

The 2008 presidential race may bring new headaches for the company. So far, at least two Democrats considering White House runs, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, have criticized the company's wages and health-care benefits.

`Vital' Battle

``The battle to engage Wal-Mart'' is ``absolutely vital,'' Obama said on a Nov. 15 conference call hosted by Wake-Up Wal- Mart, a Washington-based group funded by labor organizations. Culpepper says he met with Obama before the call, though he declined to comment on what was said. Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor says the company tried to persuade the senator that his views about the company were misguided.

Edwards last week refused to hold a book signing at a Wal- Mart in Manchester, New Hampshire, choosing a nearby Barnes & Noble instead -- even though the book store pays its employees $7 an hour to start, less than the $7.50 an hour paid by Wal-Mart, according to the Manchester Union Leader newspaper.

``Democrats running for president are lining up to bash Wal- Mart because they want the support of the unions,'' Laperriere says.

To contact the reporters on this story: Kim Chipman in Washington at ; Lauren Coleman-Lochner in New York at .

Last Updated: December 3, 2006 19:03 EST

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Behind the Wal-Mart smile

Posted on Fri, Dec. 08, 2006
Behind the Wal-Mart smile
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

The following editorial appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Thursday, Dec. 7:


Under a new Wal-Mart policy, a worker who gives 20 years of loyal service to the company will be given a free polo shirt.

That's gratitude for you.

The New York Times reports that the policy is part of Wal-Mart's effort to stem discontent in the workforce. In addition, Wal-Mart managers will be required to meet with 10 rank-and-file employees every week to listen to their concerns. To sprinkle a little holiday cheer on top, workers will get an extra 10 percent off a single item purchased at Wal-Mart in addition to the 10 percent discount they normally get.

A T-shirt and an extra 10 percent are fine. But, gee. Maybe workers also might appreciate decent health care benefits or better wages and working conditions. As of last year, Wal-Mart provided health care coverage to only 42 percent of its workers, and its benefits were far skimpier than average. Employees who make it to the Big 20 and have Wal-Mart health coverage also will get a "holiday" from a part of their health premiums along with their polo shirts.

An internal company memo leaked last year revealed that about 5 percent of Wal-Mart workers receive Medicaid, the government health program for the poor. The memo also said nearly half of all employees' children are either uninsured or rely on state-subsidized programs for health care. In other words, Wal-Mart is paying its people so little that they qualify for government subsidies for the poor, even as it pushes some of its health care costs onto the taxpayers.

Long-timers at Wal-Mart also will encounter the company's new wage caps, imposed this summer, freezing the pay of veteran store workers who don't get promotions. And there's the new crackdown on employee absences.

With policies like this, Wal-Mart won't be giving away many polo shirts. Wal-Mart used to be the juggernaut of retailing, rolling over its competition with a strategy of high-tech efficiency, cutthroat cost controls and low prices. But the juggernaut has stalled recently with sales flattening at its 6,000 stores. Part of that results from a stumble in fashion marketing, part from disruption from store renovations and part because the competition is getting smarter.

But other factors may be at work as well. Wal-Mart's labor policies have brought it a raft of bad publicity and some costly court judgments. Juries in Pennsylvania and California recently returned verdicts of about $250 million against the company for allegedly cheating employees out of pay for time worked.

Wal-Mart can't hide that behavior behind a smiley face. Sooner or later, the public was bound to notice.

© 2006 KRT Wire and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Wal-Mart has self to blame for woes

Wal-Mart has self to blame for woes
Vulnerable side to retailing behemoth being exposed this holiday season
The Associated Press
Updated: 3:34 p.m. ET Dec 2, 2006

NEW YORK - Remember when Wal-Mart was talked about as the retailer where America shopped? At least in recent months, it looks like consumers increasingly have taken their money elsewhere.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. should be a dominant force during the all-important holiday season, but instead it has tallied terrible results. Its same-store sales fell for the first time in a decade in November and it is forecasting anemic growth this month as well.

Blame for such missteps can’t go just to the slowing U.S. economy. Wal-Mart’s reputation as a difficult employer and the growing perception that it doesn’t always offer the lowest prices have led consumers to shop at competitors of the world’s largest retailer.

Given Wal-Mart’s size and power, what it does matters. With more than 6,600 stores worldwide and sales for 2006 estimated to average out to just under $1 billion a day, the Bentonville, Ark., discount chain has long been considered an industry and economic bellwether.

But its recent woes show a vulnerable side to this retailing behemoth. Maybe Wal-Mart’s problems are just Wal-Mart’s problems.

Its November same-store sales dipped 0.1 percent, marking the third consecutive month of disappointing results. Those weak sales came despite Wal-Mart’s price cuts on toys, electronics and other items in an attempt to draw shoppers.

Flat sales expected

For the heart of the holiday season, Wal-Mart is expecting December same-store sales to be flat to no more than 1 percent higher than a year earlier. The company blamed weak sales of apparel and a slump in its home furnishings business.

The initial take on Wall Street earlier in the week — when Wal-Mart tipped its hand that November wasn’t looking good — was that the weakness was symptomatic of a slowdown in overall economic growth. The stock market sold off on the idea that the housing market correction coupled with an uncertain jobs outlook might be spurring consumers to hold off on some spending.

But for that argument to hold up, there should be other warning signs as well — and there aren’t. Consumer spending has picked up in recent months as gas prices have dropped, and new retail sales show strong results from other merchants.

Rival discount chain Target Corp. tallied better-than-expected same-store sales of 5.9 percent in November. Shoppers scooped up its trendy offerings even though they bypassed them at Wal-Mart. The department store chains also fared well, including the 8.9 percent gain at Federated Department Stores Inc., which also boosted its December sales forecast.

“We are beginning to question if its (Wal-Mart’s) sales issues are broader and more secular than we are currently being led to believe,” JPMorgan retail analyst Charles Grom said.

One big issue plaguing Wal-Mart has to do with its prices. Consumers long believed if they shopped at Wal-Mart, they got the best price. And they were willing to put up with dated stores and sloppy displays so long as they were paying less.

But this year, that might not have held true. While the company has started remodeling — which also has turned off shoppers because of the disruption to the stores — most stores haven’t been redone yet. At the same time, Wal-Mart hasn’t always offered the lowest prices.

The discounter failed terribly when it attempted to attract higher-income shoppers by offering more fashionable items such as clothes that were sold at higher price points. It also shifted its advertising away from a low-price focus, but now is emphasizing cost again.

In the meantime, its competitors intensified their price-cutting on the same or similar items sold at Wal-Mart, including food and grocery items. That was especially true over Thanksgiving weekend.

Wal-Mart started discounting toys in October and electronics in early November, hoping to “gain mind share” as the low-price leader over the holiday season, according to Goldman Sachs analyst Adrianne Shapira.

But then it failed to deliver as competitors offered better deals on Black Friday and through last weekend. “The rest of the world caught up in promotions when it mattered and margins were hit across the board,” Shapira said, noting that its biggest declines in customer traffic came during the week of Thanksgiving.

Also at issue is whether Wal-Mart has expanded so much over the last four decades that finding new store locations and capturing additional sales in certain categories are becoming increasingly difficult.

Hitting a 'market-share wall'

As Merrill Lynch’s Virginia Genereux noted, Wal-Mart could have hit a “market-share wall” — since it might not be able to see much more upside to its 30 percent of share of such things as men’s underwear and pet food, or in certain markets like Springfield, Mo.

Then there is Wal-Mart’s publicity problem. Two years ago, a poll of 1,800 shoppers found that 2 percent to 8 percent of respondents said they had stopped shopping at the retailer because of negative press. The findings came in a report to Wal-Mart by consulting firm McKinsey & Co.

That decline was before the recent onslaught of attacks from two union-backed groups, and Wal-Mart Watch, which have gotten lots of media attention for taking on Wal-Mart’s treatment of workers so publicly. Wal-Mart bashing was also popular on the campaign trail during this election season.

Wal-Mart has fought back through its own intensified public relations effort. “We continue to create jobs, advance careers and enhance communities across the country,” Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott said during the Nov. 14 third-quarter earnings call.

Of course, no one should write off Wal-Mart yet. It is big. It is strong. It is resilient. It is in many of the nation’s neighborhoods, catering to many of the nation’s shoppers. No other chain comes even close to the sway that it has over American consumers.

A year from now a different Wal-Mart story could be told, one of better times ahead. For that to really happen, though, the retailer might want to review how it got where it is today, and what shoppers have long looked for in its stores.

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

© 2006

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Wal-Mart again tops Washington state health care subsidy list

Wal-Mart again tops Washington state health care subsidy list
Associated Press

Wal-Mart again has been listed as having more workers on Medicaid and Washington's Basic Health Plan than any other private employer in the state.

According to a state compilation of enrollments in June, Wal-Mart had 3,194 employees in the two taxpayer-subsidized health care programs out of 16,000 employees in the state, while McDonald's was second with 1,932 and Safeway — also with a work force of about 16,000 in Washington — was third with 1,302.

By comparison, the figures in a confidential report for 2004 showed Wal-Mart with 3,180 workers in taxpayer-supported health care programs, McDonald's with 1,824 and Safeway with 1,712.

Union leaders and their supporters around the country have sought legislation to require that large employers spend at least 9 percent of their payrolls on health care or pay the difference to help finance state health care plans. Otherwise, they have argued, businesses essentially can push health care costs onto taxpayers.

A bill that was enacted in Maryland was struck down in federal court this summer. A similar measure died in the Washington Legislature after House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, refused to advance it.

The report presented to legislators Thursday estimated that assistance for Wal-Mart employees will cost the state around $9 million this year out of a total of $600 million for all workers in Washington who receive such aid.

"I hope this report will serve as a kind of catalyst," said state Rep. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, chairman of the House Commerce and Labor Committee and secretary-treasurer of United Food and Commercial Worker's Union Local 81.

When the earlier report was leaked last spring, Wal-Mart officials said the Bentonville, Ark., company's health plan had improved since 2004.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Jennifer Holder questioned the latest figures.

"I don't think its an accurate picture of who is using the system most," Holder told The News Tribune on Thursday.

She also said Wal-Mart hires many people who are on public health assistance and has found some are reluctant to switch health plans.

Information from: The News Tribune,

© 2006 KGW-TV

© 2006 KGW-TV