Always Low Prices and Always Low Pay?


In America, you have an excellent opportunity through capitalism to be a success. To a point, that is. After which, well our dirty little secret is that we don’t want you to be.

Witness the current piling on Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer and an American success story by anybody’s measure. I know. I was there to see the story begin.

Seemingly, everyone blames Wal-Mart for unfair success.  A variety of labor unions, the National Organization for Women, and the State of Maryland has found fault with everything from hiring practices to low pay to substandard health care benefits to not paying garment workers in El Salvador enough money for making pants that cost $16.95.*

Yet, in examining the truth about Wal-Mart, you find an interesting story regarding pay in America and the current debate about minimum wage.

average hourly wage for regular full-time associates in the U.S. is $9.68 an hour, almost double the federal minimum wage.

The argument gets more errant and more ineffectual with quotes like those in the recent book, “The Case Against Wal-Mart”, by Al Norman, which begins in Chapter One with the quote, “America has been invaded by WalMartians. They have successfully colonized the United States, and planted their flag in nine other nations”. [The Case Against Wal-Mart, copyright 2004 by Al Norman].

Seriously, has anybody been holding a tazer out and threatening you to shop at Wal-Mart or else lately? The only visible space ship I am seeing here is the one Mr. Norman is in.  Mr. Norman — the Mother Ship is calling you!

Wal-Mart’s benefits to their full-time employees are enviable. Employees in most stores are offered a choice between associates’ plans (group plans) and HMO’s. They have a variety of choices, among them dental, life insurance, accidental death and dismemberment insurance, business travel insurance, and disability insurance. There is a available supplemental cancer insurance plan offered in addition to the comprehensive health care benefits available in the other plans. Wal-Mart even offers a limited medical plan to associates who are temporary or in an eligibility waiting period. Other benefits include an IRA/401K plan, an ESOP plan, incentive programs, a discount card, elective pay programs, and a free financial education benefit. All this and twice minimum wage as determined by the government. Who are we finding fault with again?

The Great State of Maryland has no problem with finding fault. You need only have assets they can tax, and they will fill in the blank, to-wit:

the State of Maryland has enacted its Fair Share Health Care Act. The new law imposes upon Wal-Mart (and effectively no other business in the state – for now) the legal duty to spend at least 8 percent of its payroll on health insurance or pay any shortfall to the state.

The Washington Post characterized the law as “a legislative mugging masquerading as an act of benevolent social engineering.”

We negotiate a slope worthy of Everest iced-in when we, as a capitalist economy, attempt to legislate to employers what to pay employees. Just as we can’t tell consumers where to shop (and they seem to have absolutely no problem doing just that at Wal-Mart), we can’t tell the free market where to work and for what pay and benefits. Such socialist hype means we hurt the competitiveness of the American worker and the shareholders of American corporations in the process.

One final point: if it were such a bad deal to work at WalMart, then why would over 25,000 Chicago-area residents apply for 500 positions in a newly opened suburban store?

I grew up in Rogers, Arkansas, where the first Wal-Mart store was constructed in 1962. I know a lot of millionaires and a number of other people living in very comfortable early retirement who did nothing more than go to work for Wal-Mart and take advantage of the benefits and pay offered. All-in, it looks as though wearing a blue vest is not that bad a deal.


One Response to “Always Low Prices and Always Low Pay?”

  1. Blogs, news and more! Says:

    very nice blog!mary

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