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How about those Walton’s and that Wal-Mart

By Dian Vujovich

It’s no secret that Sam Walton and his family have amassed billions by being cheap. You know, selling everything from bananas to sports equipment cheaper than anybody else. And in the process of doing so Wal-Mart stores also changed the landscape of small town America by introducing its customers to big parking-lot shopping experiences while at the same time putting lots of mom-and-pop businesses out of business. But, hey, cheap pricing works. Particularly when wages of the bulk of ordinary working American’s have remained stagnant for many many years.

But this blog isn’t about cheap pricing, rather the cheapness— the politically correct word is probably the “frugality— of a whoppingly wealthy family that happens to be in charge of the country’s top retailer: In addition to the fact that more that 50 percent of the stock, (symbol WMT), is held by Walton family folk, for the second year in a row this Arkansas-based firm has landed in the No. 1 slot on Fortune’s 500 list.

According to Fortune.com, net sales of Wal-Mart totaled $4731 billion for fiscal year 2014. That’s up 1.6 percent from 2013. YahooFinance reports show net assets have increased as well.

Making money is why people go into business. Making sure any business can make money takes the help of its employees—employees that include everyone from those who clean the latrines, greet you when you enter the store as well as managers and top execs.

Once upon a time, when companies bragged about the benefit’s package they offered to draw in new employees and keep the ones they had, providing health insurance was like a de rigueur, i.e., absolutely positively necessary. Some companies even offered their part-time help health insurance coverage. Wal-Mart was one of them.

But that’s all changed now for a number of reasons and Wal-Mart announced this week that it would no longer provide part-time workers health coverage. The reason? It’s just too expensive. Now it has become a no health insurance company for part-timers. To be fair, it’s not the only company that has decided to do so. Three others include Target, Trader Joe’s and Home Depot.

But the Wal-Mart problem I have is with that too expensive part. Wal-Mart can afford to cover health care for part-time employees but given the Walton family’s history of philanthropic giving, and if you believe that charity does begin at home and extend into the work place, their decision isn’t surprising.

From a June 3, 2014 Forbes.com story, “Report: Walmart’s Billionaire Waltons Give Almost None Of Own Cash To Foundation’, comes this: “Whereas Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have given 36.2 % and 26.9 % of their respective wealth to charitable causes, the Walmart heirs have between them given 0.04 % of their fortune……Meanwhile, the average middle class earner with a salary of $50,000 to $99,000 contributes 6 % of their discretionary income to charity…..”

Everything begins at the top in the corporate arena. And while health care coverage is certainly not to be considered charity, providing it is an act of caring. If those who head a company can see beyond the bottom line into a broader arena and recognize that a company’s fortunes would not exist if it weren’t for its employees, everyone would be richer.

So shame on you Wal-Mart for deciding to discontinue health care coverage for your part-time employees. That was a cheap move for a company that could well afford it.

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