Veto Override Shows Lawmakers Don’t See Big Picture

With the override of what has been called “The Wal-Mart Bill,” lawmakers in Maryland are failing to see (or at least talk about publicly) a major facet to the big picture Wal-Mart war. First, this is a classic “big business vs. ‘the little guy’” fight and unfortunately the Maryland legislature (like any other, I suppose) has its political line they all virtually have to fall on. “Have to” is strong, maybe “expected” would be the better term. I’m not a big business shill nor am I always going to be sympathetic to what people might identify as the little guy. I think most of these corporate-worker fights come down to such debatable details that the fights themselves can no longer be dropped in to the “big business vs. ‘the little guy’” category.

In this case, while I would have supported the veto, my real problem is that public perception is skewed when it comes to Wal-Mart specifically. I could never write here and say that Wal-Mart and the Walton family has been one big glowing crop of angels over the years, because that is obviously not the case. Nor will I ever encourage or defend breaking labor laws and the like. But what a lot of people – mainly the public critics of Wal-Mart – fail to realize is that the company does a heck of a lot for the communities in which they operate.

For instance, many towns that Wal-Mart comes in to have unemployment rates that drop significantly because of the huge number of people that just one store needs to employ. Sure, say that these aren’t the greatest jobs in the world – they aren’t. But they are jobs. And they are jobs that people didn’t have in the first place.

I have a soft spot for New Orleans. I was there after Hurricane Katrina and spent a good amount of time as a relief worker helping tear down houses, clean up debris, counsel families, and a number of other things with my group of 22 people. It changed my life in the never-gonna-be-the-same kind of way. I don’t even care if it was a PR stunt, Wal-Mart provided more than any other company that was down there (that we saw/interacted with) and faster than Red Cross, the government, or even the other very generous companies. They promised jobs to their New Orleans employees, they provided the families we were helping with heaps of goods, food and water.

Frankly, on the Maryland bill I’d fall on the side of wishing the veto had stuck. It didn’t, and I’m not heartbroken, I’m sort of mushy on this specific issue. I just wish that in all the talk on the issue and the bill, what fails to be seen are some of the amazing things that the company does for communities, and especially for Katrina victims and relief workers – and that part is undeniable. Anyone that lives there or worked relief there can tell you that.

The only other thing I AM certain of is that the big winners in Maryland’s battle and others are the trial lawyers.

15 Comments so far

  1. Robis (unregistered) on January 15th, 2006 @ 11:58 pm

    I rarely say things this strongly, Stacey, but are you insane?

    WalMart does not in any way improve the communities that they move in to, and have a long, country-wide history of actually sending their chosen communities farther into depression and poverty. Do they provide employment? Yes, they certainly do—to the people they rendered unemployed by driving their former employers out of business. And when they employ those displaced workers they created, they do so at a much lower pay.

    There are plenty of big businesses out there that do improve their communities, and do actually care about the welfare of their cusotmers beyond the purchases they make. WalMart is not one of them.

  2. Mike from Reston (unregistered) on January 16th, 2006 @ 12:29 am

    If Wal-Mart donates money or goods to the needy and deserving, that’s good. But that doesn’t erase the fact that Wal-Mart has done more than any other business to make those people needy and deserving in the first place.

    And whatever good they’ve done has been carefully planned for maximum PR. They know a lot of us are fed up with what they’ve done to retail and won’t shop there anymore. So they pull off symbolic stunts like the Katrina relief effort to try to win us back. Hey, it impressed Stacey, didn’t it?

    Stuff on the Maryland battle from Wal-Mart Watch:

  3. Jenn L (unregistered) on January 16th, 2006 @ 8:36 am

    I don’t know, Stacey, I think you are letting your emotion over what you saw in NOLA cloud your judgement. Not to be too cynical here, but isn’t it possible that WalMart’s involvement, giving aid and promising jobs, is critical for the company to get in on the ground floor of redevelopment and secure spots for more big boxes in the footprint of the hurricane? And let’s not forget their history of intimidation with communities, employees, and even the manufacturers they purchase from. It may have started out with a noble idea once upon a time, but it doesn’t seem to be operating so nobly anymore.

  4. Stacey (unregistered) on January 16th, 2006 @ 8:48 am

    Ahh, the age old question: Stacey, are you insane? Well, jury is still out on that one:).

    Here’s the thing – I’m not defending Wal-Mart as a company or as a whole. Like I said, I can’t do that specifically because of the “bad” even though for me, I also see the “good” (these might be defined differently by different people as well). So, sure, does Wal-Mart have a history of doing the above mentioned? Absolutely.

    All I’m saying is that all sides of the coin should be considered. Sure it’s about the bottom line – it is for every company. That’s why they are in business, to make money. I’d argue that Wal-Mart does a poorer job of making their work look like money-making schemes than other companies. Everything for-profit entities do is to make money – that is their sole purpose. And, I’m okay with that (as a principle – not when it breaks the law, etc.).

    So, definitely not saying Wal-Mart is an angel by any stretch of the idea. And I’ve seen communities (my own from Michigan) where there were huge wealth gaps and retail came in (Wal-Mart with many others, to be fair) and employed people that didn’t have jobs. Not people working in mom and pop shops who they ran out of business. People that had no jobs at all.

    All of this being said, my main point is lets acknowledge the good as well as fry them for the bad – that’s the standard we hold to other companies that haven’t been demonized, and that’s the standard we want others to have with ourselves.

  5. Michael (unregistered) on January 16th, 2006 @ 11:45 am

    I worked with this really sweet grad student this summer who at the mention of the word “WalMart” got so angry because of how they treat their employees. I thought she was kidding because she never gets angry and I said she was stupid because she failed to consider WalMart’s “LOW LOW PRICES”. Well, lets just say she found no humor in my response.

    But seriously, making a law to require a big company to provide benefits to employees while not requiring small companies to seems un-American. I can see the political advantage to favoring the “little guy” but I think its unfair to the companies, consumers, free market AND not best for this country. Employers should ALL be required to provide health care to employees or NONE should be required to provide health care. Let the government create fair even rules for all employors and then let businesses, consumers, employees, and markets make the decisions of what benefits should be offered.

  6. Thomas Nephew (unregistered) on January 16th, 2006 @ 12:40 pm

    The reason to require big companies to provide benefits is to prevent them from becoming big just because they *don’t* provide benefits. In other words, to keep them from exploiting a loophole in the US system that encourages companies from foisting health care benefits off on the public, instead of paying it themselves. The Wal-Mart bill is not just a dig at a deservedly unpopular company, it’s good public policy.

  7. Don (unregistered) on January 16th, 2006 @ 2:00 pm

    The offering or not offering of benefits isn’t in any way a “loophole,” it’s the way of the American economy. Many of us are spoiled by the common situation of jobs making available health care but it’s not a requirement that they do so. In most cases it’s also not required that they offer vacation, sick days, retirement plans or most of the other things we take for granted. Additionally most people over-estimate the number of protections they have in the working world. Odds are most everyone reading this works under an “employment at will” situation and if your boss decides to fire you because they don’t like your hairdo, color of your socks or any number of other reasons – provided they are not things that fall under a ‘protected class’ – they’re free to do so.

    I’m not a Wal-Mart apologist any more than I am any other business apologist, but their position of not widely providing health care doesn’t do anything but point out the problems in our system and take advantage of the marketplace advantages available to them. As Michael says, if we want to mandate that employment must come with health care, we have to do it with a somewhat even hand.

  8. Michael (unregistered) on January 16th, 2006 @ 2:43 pm

    I’m starting to love this blogging stuff. . .

    I like the policy issues that this WalMart thing brings up. Who SHOULD pay for health care?? I tend to think that individuals should have the freedom to make their own health care decisions and so they should also bear the responsiblity that comes with it. . . paying for it. However the unemployed and employees of low paying jobs like WalMart can’t afford health care. So who should make the health care decisions and take the responsiblity for these situations?

    I certainly don’t think the answer is “WalMart” but I dont like the answer “government” either.

  9. slightlysocialist (unregistered) on January 16th, 2006 @ 2:56 pm

    Stacy, Insane? I don’t really think so. As a slightly socialist student living in NW Washington DC, Starbucks and Wal-Mart are the supposed evil empires. We rally, we protest and we make signs. And then when we are done we go to Pura-Vida or so-ho, um…no, we all go to starbucks than back to our room to take a nap in our beds on the sheets we got from Wal-Mart. Ahhh…the experience of the urban collegiate experience in the post-modern world. But what makes a slight tinge of irony to this experience grow into blatant sarcasm is that when you look around my room at the assembled paraphernalia you will see that the majority of it just happens to come from Wal-Mart. Toothpaste, Deodorant, Toothbrush, my contacts, shampoo, shaving cream, even to the small details of the fabric the covers my dull white cinder block walls. Not to mention the $20 gift card sitting in my desk that I got in my stocking for Christmas to Starbucks which I absolutely plan on using, perhaps even right when I finish making this post. Wal-Mart, I can afford, and well I just really like mocha’s.

    My question is when did it become wrong to have an innovative and successful business plan? As a slight left leaner that values equality and the worth of everyone I feel that being effective is a strong value that we have let go off because our society celebrates mediocrity. For example I would defiantly say that the diamonds that your fiancée’s, wife’s etc. are wearing a most likely wrong to wear because poor children living in South Africa, or Uganda mined them and risked their lives so we could have a romantic evening on the Potomac, bending down on one knee and throwing our lives away at this whole marriage thing, which for most will end in divorce (wonder what the divorce rate is for a family with a member employed a Wal-Mart as opposed to a family with a member working in a corporate office in downtown DC?). And yes, it’s probably wrong to exploit coffee farmers in Peru and buy non-fair trade coffee (I admit it, I love starbucks, but it’s just so wrong). However, I feel that there is nothing wrong with being effective. Yes, people who are successful should give away (I like to call it re-distribution of wealth) they should treat their employees well, with dignity and respect. However that does not mean that the high school student or stay at home mom who feels empty nest syndrome when her children leave, who are employed at Wal-Mart, Starbucks etc. should be making six figures. Should they have adequate health insurance coverage…Heck Yeah…But I wish as a society we placed that Burdon upon ourselves and not corporations. Does that mean they should be treated fairly? Duh. Does it mean they need to make $15 an hour…no.

    Growing up I babysat in the evenings. And I babysat for a young child that I consider to be one of the most impressive people that I have ever met. I learned more from this mentally handicapped boy that I think I have learned in all four 3.5 years of College. And with all that I learned from this boy, from all the valuable life lessons that I was too oblivious to even notice and he saw, with all of his insight and potential. The only place that would hire him when he wanted to get a job was Wal Mart. Did they have to…no. They could go without the happy old people that give children stickers when the walk through the door. They could go without the neglected members of the community that shout from the top of the lungs “Welcome to Wal-Mart”. They could be totally self seeking…which many times they are. But they try to make prices low…always, so people like me, who probably make less than an employee at Wal Mart starve because I am trying to make a difference in this world by working in this blasted city. They try to give back to their communities…ever notice how much they give away? And the emphasis they place on community development. The scholarship funds that help disadvantaged students afford school. They funding and participation in the Special Olympics.

    I’m sorry, you basic mom and pop store could not do this. They are too concerned about how to get the turkey and mashed potatoes on the table that night to actually worry about anyone else. Yeah they may remember you name…but big whoop, that’s because they have nothing else to do and only have a handful of customers.

    Kudos to Stacy for realizing a strategic business plan, for realizing success, for not settling for mediocrity and for defending a company that makes the lives of millions, maybe billions a little more affordable. Wal Mart, always low prices…Always.

  10. wayan (unregistered) on January 16th, 2006 @ 3:11 pm

    Here comes the healthcare rabbit hole to open up and swallows us all..

    First of, healthcare costs in this country are insane. More insane than Stacy ever could claim to be, and yet still not delivering any better quality than other, cheaper healthcare systems in other developed countries.

    As these costs are insane, few if any of us can afford healthcare w/o some sort of price subsidy. Most of us find it in our employer – they pay a portion or all, and the US Government – flexible medical spending accounts that reduce/eliminate taxes on certain medical premiums and costs.

    Wal*Mart hourly employees, the bulk of their workforce, do not have reasonable access to either of these subsidies. That wouldn’t be such a big deal, but as they are usually paid so little and have so little assets, if they do get sick, its the state and MD taxpayers, that will have to pick up their Medicaid costs.

    And then you have Wal*Mart’s size. In 10 states Wal-Mart employees, children, and spouses are the single largest privately employed users of state health insurance programs

    That means that MD legislators should poke their nose in what should be a private corporate decision, and make Wal*Mart provide more medical benefits to its employees. If they don’t Maryland taxpayers will be footing the bill. Corporate welfare at its worst.

  11. Michael (unregistered) on January 16th, 2006 @ 3:21 pm

    I live in Rockville Maryland and I think I would’ve defended WalMart with some passion but the WalMarts closest to me (Gaithersburg and Laurel) SUCK! Every other one I have ever gone to in my life has glistened with cleanliness and friendliness and of course “Low Low Prices”.

  12. Joseph LeBlanc (unregistered) on January 16th, 2006 @ 7:45 pm

    The one down in Springfield isn’t any better.

    I was once trying to buy a set of speakers down there that didn’t have a price on the shelf, so I took it to the register to find the price. About 7-8 associates, two unanswered calls to Arkansas, and a trip to the customer service desk later, I was left waiting at the front for someone to return from the back. After about 10 minutes of waiting, I just left.

    Never again.

  13. Don (unregistered) on January 16th, 2006 @ 9:49 pm

    It’s not Wal-Mart’s fault that our health care system is fucked and we lack the political will to do the right thing and engage in collective bargaining for basic health care. They operate in the system as it exists, and demanding that they shoulder responsibility that other businesses don’t have to just because they are successful is wrong.

    As far as “Wal-Mart employees, children, and spouses are the single largest privately employed users of state health insurance programs” – all this means is that Wal-Mart is big. So what? It could probably be reasonably argued that if they were forced to offer health care to all employess (unlike every other business out there) then they would be much less big.

    As a nation we need to quit fucking around with these half-measures and aim our political will at fixing the problem correctly. This means not condemning price caps on prescription drugs in one breath and then encouraging people to get their drugs from Canada (where they’re cheaper BECAUSE THEY HAVE PRICE CONTROLS) with the next. It means that if we want everyone to have health care then we need to make it so everyone has health care, not that everyone who can negotiate for it or who works at Wal-Mart has it and everyone else can go hang.

  14. JM94 (unregistered) on January 18th, 2006 @ 8:04 am

    I’m a Maryland resident, not happy about this at all. I think many people foolishly think that this solves the healthcare situation in the country, wrong. All this does is show other businesses that Maryland may not be the best place to go. Yes, I agree that our healthcare system is screwed up, and both sides are to blame for it. Everyone seems to blame the Walmart’s of the world, what about the costs of malpractice insurance that Doctors have to pay? For every legitimate malpractice case, how many bs ones are there, just looking for ridiculous money?

    If you’re going to legislate coverage, we need major changes in the legal system. That means caps etc. Good luck with that. I’m sure the attorneys will go for it. My cousin is a Doctor, an OB/Gyn. She flat out goes through times during the year where she cannot take any more patients, not because she can’t handle it, but because her insurance would jump so dramatically that she’d go out of business. She only finished top of her class, yet she has to turn new patients away at times, it’s just crazy.

    Walmart is only part of the problem. The entire system is a disaster. Singling out the big, bad company in reality does nothing. It does however, tell other businesses looking to come to Maryland to think twice about it.

  15. Don (unregistered) on January 18th, 2006 @ 3:34 pm

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