Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Domestic Partner Benefits at Wal-Mart




Today was another Wal-Mart day for me and Bill. Bill is making custom curtains for our sun room and he was looking for trim to put the finishing touches to his curtains. He wanted to check out the cloth section of the Georgetown Wal-Mart.

We have four Wal-Marts and one Sam’s Club within striking distance of us. Each one offers something special. All of them offer the best prices for food and other products. I may sound like a commercial for the Wal-Mart chain but I have nothing but praise for their prices. For instance, I can buy a box of Ralston Purina Corn Chex at the local Food Lion for $4.34 a box. This week they had a “special” on; two boxes for $6.00. At the Georgetown Wal-Mart I brought four boxes of the Ralston Purina Corn Chex for $1.88 a box. That is savings I can understand.

One Wal-Mart is in Rehoboth Beach. That is not a Super Wal-Mart, which means they don’t have a full grocery section. If they did, they would quickly put out of business the local Food Lion, Safeway, Super Fresh and Giant stores. The Wal-Mart’s in Georgetown and Milford are what they call super centers. They carry everything including a full supermarket with prices that beat the standard supermarkets. The Wal-Mart in Dover is next to Sam’s Club. It is a huge Wal-Mart but doesn’t carry a full super market (meats) section. The Sam’s Club within walking distance of that Wal-Mart carries meats, groveries and other speciality items in bulk and hard to resist prices. Their rotisserie chicken can’t be beat at $4.97. It is fresh, big and tasty. The local supermarkets offer a skinnier chicken at $7.97, and it’s usually dried out and a couple days old.

Do I sound like I work for Wal-Mart’s marketing department or what? All I am doing is speaking is the truth. Like computers, what did we do before we had Wal-Mart’s?

I live right off of Route 1, which is the major artery to Sussex County, the southern most county in Delaware. Every day, as I look out from the windows in my sunroom, I can see the huge tractor trailer trucks bearing the Wal-Mart logo barreling down Route 1 to replenish the Wal-Mart stores down here.

A friend of mine is boycotting Wal-Mart because they don’t offer domestic partner benefits. I would say this is a case of someone cutting off their nose to spite their faces. From what I have observed, Wal-Mart employs gay people and pays them a salary. For most of by adult life, I’ve worked for banks. Before that time I worked for a hotel, as I do now. During my high school years I worked a variety of jobs. In all the jobs I’ve ever worked, none of them have ever offered domestic partner benefits. Should I not have worked at these places? I don’t think so. Would I have liked to have had the option of choosing domestic benefits at any of these places? I absolutely would. So what would my options be if I boycotted Wal-Mart? They would be paying higher prices for a lesser variety of products. That doesn’t make sense to me. Should I boycott the local hospital emergency room (which I used last January 3rd) just because the hospital doesn’t offer domestic benefits? Again, that doesn’t make sense.

So, I continue to shop Wal-Mart, with my domestic partner. He’s happy and I’m happy. Even the Chinese people are happy. We made them a little richer today.

13 comments:

  1. Interesting post - good reasoning.

    Liked the Christmas music - I think I sent you my blog with Christmas music (a bit more classical I think, but I sure enjoyed your selections as well).

    As to 'domestic partner benefits', being somehow 'key' in a person's decision to patronize a business, I think (as you said), that's just a bit much.

    I guess you'll notice all those people with 'no noses' heading over to the 3rd party lending institutions to get a 'bridge loan' when they run out of money because of their unwillingness to see the 'economics' as you do.

    Diane

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  2. Run,

    Lois does most of her shopping at WalMart and Sav-a-lot. Of course it is partly a financial decision. But one thing she finds is the people shopping along with her have generally been more helpful and friendly than other stores.


    Lar

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  3. Diane,

    As always, I appreciate your prescient comments. To me, a person who advocates boycotting a major store because it doesn't offer domestic partner benefits speaks more the self indulgent nature of the person advocating the boycott that it does true altruism. Sort of like those two bozos who are advocating the "Call in Gay" day today as a protest of California's passage of Proposition 8 which legalizes the gay marriage ban. Ironically, my friend (and you know who this is, I don't have to say his name), probably won't be calling in "Gay" today because he needs the income from his job. Hello? Welcome to the real world. I'm gay and I'll be gay to the day I die but common sense has to come into play here before we start advocating boycotts and other ill thought out actions which don't solve anything.

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  4. Lar,

    I too find the people at Wal-Mart most helpful. I don't think I've ever encountered an attitude with anyone there, shoppers or employees. However, I can't say the same for their competitors. Safeway, Giant, Super Fresh, Food Lion, more than a few times I have asked for help and been ignored, brushed off or treated with a general rudeness. And all of this accompanied by higher prices and a lack of selection of products. Gee, I wonder why Wal-Mart is the most productive company in the world. They must be doing something right. The only advantages these other stores have is that some of them are located geographically closer. It is only with great reluctance that I even occasionally shop at these stores. The only store that I have found that exceeds Wal-Mart is Wegmans. Now that is a store!

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  5. jim rossignal11:59 AM

    Ron,

    I hate to rain on the Wal-Mart parade, but here goes:

    You got it right by saying: "...That is not a Super Wal-Mart, which means they don’t have a full grocery section. If they did, they would quickly put out of business the local Food Lion, Safeway, Super Fresh and Giant stores."

    Yes, this is Wal-Mart's grand strategy in a nutshell. They come into a town and eventually run out businesses after business, and a lot more kinds than the local supermarkets, including many nice small stores with good products and customer service. They can do it because they're one of the world's biggest conglomerates who use their incredible power to bully their suppliers into yielding dirt bottom costs, then similarly bully their co-distributors and finally for good measure turn and bully their employees. more info: http://wakeupwalmart.com/facts/

    In fact Wal-Mart actually has a corporate jet and a team ready to fly at a moment's notice to any Wal-Mart in the country if there is any report that employees at a certain store are attempting to form a union. And no, this is not an urban myth.

    And lest we forget this from this past April: (quoting) "The woman, Deborah Shank, was a shelf stocker who suffered severe brain damage when her car was hit by a truck. Wal-Mart insurance benefits paid for her care initially. Later, the woman’s family reached a settlement with the trucking company that left her with $417,000 in a trust fund for her long-term care. But that’s when Wal-Mart went after the money, suing Ms. Shank to collect reimbursement for $470,000 in medical costs. The tactic, apparently, is not unusual."

    source: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/04/04/injured-woman-wins-wal-mart-saga/

    On a lesser evil note, in some instances Wal-Mart will build two stores close to each other in one town. Then when the businesses they want inevitably close down, they close one of the two Wal-Marts.

    So the bigger problem for us is this: what happens when the day comes (and surely it may) when Wal-Mart has run practically every major business out of town and we're left holding the rope? Will the prices still be so low? Maybe. I'm more inclined to think of Potterville in "It's A Wonderful Life." Remember what Potter did to Bedford Falls? Only for us it won't be something where we can get up and watch something else when the movie's over.

    All this stuff is well documented. You can find it all over the internet, the national press and the national news. Of course by now Wal-Mart's slimy reputation is so old hat that it barely gets notice. Another good source: www.walmartmovie.com

    I'm sorry to go off like this on one of your treasured institutions but as you can see Wal-Mart is an emotional subject for me. It especially became one this past April 2008 when the story described above came to light: that the Wal-Mart behemoth and it's hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars in overall profits went after one of their own employees for what amounts to them a drop in the bucket so infinitesimally small as to be, for all intensive purposes, imperceptible. A woman who was due that money. A woman who lay in the hospital with severe brain damage needing the settlement solely for long-term care.

    Again, I'm sorry. I know there are good things about Wal-Mart but to me it's all in the context of the above. I never shop there and I encourage others not to shop there. But I know lots of really good people who do. Indeed I know people who practically NEED to shop there. But there it is anyway.

    Jim

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  6. Jim,

    Your comments are always appreciated, even if they disagree with me. I always appreciate a good discussion. This is the second time I've responded to your comment, I lost the first one due to some glitch with Blogger. I have to make this short because I have to get ready to go to work. I will read your comments again so I can give a well thought out response to you. But I do want to say at this time I'm not in love with Wal-Mart and it isn't one of my treasured institutions but a necessary evil. I've always believed that competition is good. The stores that Wal-Mart (and Wegmans) put out of business in PA, where I used to live, needed to be put out of business. But, as is the case almost always with behomoths, they sometimes get carried away by their omnipresence. It's called hubris. I remember the story of the woman who had a severe brain injury that Wal-Mart wanted to ignore. That could happen with any company, I'm not defending Wal-Mart. I use the VA system and I've seen abuse and hubris in that system. But, that said, I have received the best medical care of my life through the VA. Care that I never received from private medical practice. I don't believe anything is black and white, all good or all bad. There are always gradients of gray. I hope I don't lose this posting too because I'm on a roll now. I am now living on a limited income. I work part-time to pay a mortgage that will be paid off when I'm 95 years old. This is the first mortgage I've had since 1974. I have a mortgage because, in order to sell my PA house in this housing market, I had to drastically lower my asking price. Thus, with my mortgage, heating bills, electric, water, and taxes, I cannot afford to keep overpriced stores in business who have a large labor force with more generous retirement benefits that I have ever received. I am literally talking about the amount of money I have available to me every month to live a quality of life that I have earned. I cannot afford to pay over $4.00 for a box of corn chex when I can get it at Wal-Mart for $1.18. Corn Chex is my breakfast. I've tried the substutes, they don't work. As I said before, competition is a good thing. In a future blog I'll write about my experiences with Comcast. At one time they were the Only Game In Town and they knew it. When I moved to this new house they thought they had me be the "you know what" and they charged an outrageous amount for my Internet service ($74.95 monthly.) Verizon came in and started to offer them competition. Now we all know Verizon is no dance in the park but I only pay $24.95 a month for the SAME SERVICE. Comcast was charging me $122.95 a month for cable TV. DirecTV charges me $54.95 a month. I bundle the bill with Verizon and I get a further $15 discount. And yes, we know DirecTV is no walk in the park either (ever call their customer service? That's a trip and a half.) However, the bottom line is that I save almost $200 a month in my bundled cable, Internet, phone and wireless service with Verizon. Plus, any time I called Comcast, they were not nice. Almost always they were indifferent or rude. That's called customer service. Those are the companies I avoid, the ones who don't know what customer service means. With Wal-Mart, I've always received good customer service. You got me on a roll now but I'm going to quit. I have to get ready and go to work. I need to make money to pay the bills. Thanks again Jim for starting the discussion. I have a feeling our discussion isn't finished yet. I welcome further discussion. Persuade me.

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  7. jim rossignal4:51 PM

    Ron,

    As always, a pleasure to read your post and your reply to comments.

    There is no doubt that Wal-Mart serves a purpose and not all of it is bad. You're right, there almost always is gray. I'm sure more than a few businesses could learn a ton from some parts of Wal-Mart's business model.

    Before I forget I'd like to apologize for calling it one of your "treasured institutions." I was being a little flippant there although you did say something along the lines that you were practically writing a commercial for them.

    Anyway, as far as the woman with brain damage, I have to completely disagree with your assessment that she was the woman "...that Wal-Mart wanted to ignore."

    In fact Wal-Mart aggressively fought her almost literally to the death to remove her settlement award. That is not ignoring. Indeed here is a case where there is no gray. I'd like you to follow the link I provided and see if you still feel the same way afterward.

    Actually I hope you will check out all the links I provided if you get a chance. I appreciate that you said you want to read my comment again. As always you are a rare bird in a very good way. :)

    In an equal opportunity moment, I will always remember that Wal-Mart was the first relief on the scene after Hurricane Katrina. Of course, FEMA never let them through. Ut, oh...I'm feeling another one coming on! :)

    Again, I never shop Wal-Mart and encourage others to do the same for the reasons laid out in my previous comment. However, I'm far from perfect. (can you imagine that?) I know I've heard bad things about a company like Nike that used to (not anymore) abuse their workers overseas and I still bought the shoes. But for the most part I try to stay informed and put my money where my mouth is.

    Again thanks for the good exchange. Definitely check out those links and let me know what you think.

    Jim

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  8. It would probably be nice if Wal-Mart told this woman they would drop the suit. They have expressed sadness about it, but we are talking about legality and setting precedents that could be detrimental going forward. The woman sued the trucking company, who's driver was the cause of this woman's pain, not Wal-Mart. She won the case getting a Million dollar settlement. Under the medical insurance she carried as a Wal-Mart employee her right to the insurance money was negated because she received a settlement from a third party. This is not an unusal clause and protects insurance companies. It isn't unreasonable.

    If we wnt to villify anyone here, it should be the lawyers who took the top percentage of the $1 million dollar award, leaving the woman with $417,000. Why don't the lawyers kick back some of the $583,000 they took?

    For that matter, why don't the medical facilities cut some of their fees out of mercy and return porsions of their payment to her so her costs are covered and she has something left over? Believe me, the costs of care were not equal to the fees charged. Funny how we hear of people denied care for lack of payment and everyone will jump on the insurance company as heartless nd never question the heart of the physician who demands his money before he cares.

    Look, I'm not jumping on a bandwagon for Wal-Mart as a good or bad company. But we can villify almost every business out there if we want to go that route. As far as closing down other businesses, you can find the other big box stores practicing the same tactics.

    Frankly, if we decided we would boycott businesses who's behavior was sometimes less than sterling, we wouldn't shop anywhere and we wouldn't work anywhere. But that said, it is also perfectly fine to not give business to a company they feel is doing wrong. If someone wants to not go to Wal-Mart that is their choice. If someone wants to, it is their choice as well.

    lar

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  9. jim rossignal9:55 AM

    Wal-Mart expressed their regrets about Deborah Shank only after many days of intense public outrage and media pressure. And if you are of the opinion that's it's not unreasonable for a muti-billion dollar conglomerate to go after a brain-damaged employee for $470,000 who recovered $417,000 in a third-party settlement just because the law says they can then, well, I guess there you have it.

    Yes, lawyers generally are scum and many if not most big businesses in some way, too. But--and only in my humble opinion-- Wal-Mart is one of the biggest and certainly one of the very worst.

    Now I've got to get going to Sam's Club. Poppa needs a new HDTV and I heard they're having a sale.

    Jim

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  10. jim rossignal12:59 PM

    So Ron, what's the record for comments to a single post? :)

    This one's from the all-fairness department and apologies to Lar who I didn't mean to attack personally and whose point I brushed aside too easily for what fact it is based on.

    I won't copy and paste the entire article (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/04/04/injured-woman-wins-wal-mart-saga/)

    but here's the gist:

    "The issue lit up the blogosphere as commentators denounced Wal-Mart. Earlier this week, Wal-Mart announced it would drop its effort to collect and would change its policy regarding subrogation to allow for exceptions.

    Wal-Mart corporate communications director Daphne Moore issued this statement: “Occasionally others help us step back and look at a situation in a different way,” Ms. Moore said. “This is one of those times.” "

    So basically Wal-Mart is admitting they were wrong, but it is only fair on the part of critics like myself to acknowledge when someone has made amends and I congratulate Wal-Mart for withdrawing the suit and changing their policy.

    Now how often they actually will put the new policy into action away from media glare I have my doubts but it's something.

    I will also acknowledge Lar's insight that the trucking company is really the bad guy in all this. They did the damage and carried only a $1 million insurance policy which is a complete joke. And definitely the lawyers were abominable. Estimates are Mrs. Shank's care will likely exceed $2 million over the course of her life.

    Indeed how many big boxes are abusing the very people who support them whether customers,suppliers or employees? Probably lots that don't have the target on their back that Wal-Mart does. Do I shop at those boxes? Sure. Am I as knowledgeable of their goings-on? No.

    Again, apologies to Lar and to some extent Wal-Mart. I still won't shop there. I still think they are top dog in developing new ways to capitalize on corporate greed. But they have their good...no, okay side, too.

    Fun discussion. Nice back and forth. Appreciate everyone's insights and input.

    Jim

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  11. It is always good to have an intelligent and mutually respectful discussion, even if we disagree. That's how we learn. I always listen and am open to new ideas except when it comes from Fox News. Thanks for the intellectual stimulation.

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  12. Hey, Ron - you got quite a dialog going there didn't you!

    Wouldn't it be great if Wal-Mart would invite the local smaller businesses to 'set up their shops' inside the Wal-Mart 'umbrella'. A huge Wal-Mart; inside, those local merchants who could still offer their services/ware/goodies, and only pay a monthly lease fee (smaller than what they were paying to stay indepdent), and then get the foot-traffic that Wal-Mart brings in???

    Now we'd have those 'specialized retailers' who are local residents; have friends and fans who'd still buy from them, and at the same time be able to enjoy the benefit of bulk-buying power, and ALL UNDER ONE ROOF!

    There, that's how I'd solve this problem....

    In San Diego, they've fought hard for years to keep Wal-Mart out of their area; too many self-owned well established merchants who provide outstanding products...

    In Monterey, CA where I lived for a few months, again - no Wal-Marts!

    My 2nd cousin retired from Wal-Mart; she could write a book on the 'horror stories' regarding the way Wal-Mart treats their employees.

    Wal-Mart and Wal-greens; both denounced Obama, and went so far as to not stock anything that promoted Obama during the weeks preceding the election.

    I really don't think Sam Walton would have approved, but his successor and his children have chosen a 'new direction'.

    I think there's room for both - and if Wal-Mart would get smart an cultivate the local business owners confidence; offer them 'store space', we'd end up with a huge 'under one roof', selection that would allow everyone to prosper....

    It's nice listening to your Christmas music while writing my comment; makes it so 'pleasant'...

    ...and this song in 3/4 time...

    See the answer is in the music. 3/4 time is waltz time; 3 counts in every measure, and each quarter note gets one count. Wal-Mart can be the 3 and the local merchants can be the 4, and each quarter would get one count. Wal-mart gets 3/4 of the gross; the rest get 1/4 of the gross, and after fees and expenses, eveyone makes enough to certainly survive, and it would be a boon to the shopper!

    Diane

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  13. Diane,

    What a pleasure to read your comment. I didn't realize that Diane Krall was singing "Walking in a Winter Wonderland" in 3/4 time. I knew I liked the sound though. You bring a very interesting possibility for Wal-Mart integrating some other specialty small businesses in their store. An interesting concept for sure but I doubt that Wal-Mart would ever agree to such an idea. I think they are so successful in keeping their prices down precisely because they do not have unionized labor. From my lifetime observation of unionized labor, what I see is higher wages and an "entitled" attitude that sets in. While I agree that unions were largely responsible for livable wages and working conditions for non-union labor, I've seen too many excesses of union labor to feel sorry for them now that they have priced themselves out of the global market.

    You mention your second cousin who worked for Wal-Mart and the horror stories she could tell. I worked for non-union banks and I can tell you equally terrible horror stories, some of them mine. The bottom line is that we're all just cogs in this machine. Union provide a needed balance to the excesses if capitalism. Without unions, we would all be slaves to a few rich capitalists. I think Wal-Mart, which not pure as the driven snow, ultimately has a beneficial effect for the economy and labor. Should every community have a Wal-Mart store? No. I don't agree to that. For instance, I have frequently mentioned Wegmans. They are wonderful. The Wegmans I used to shop at in Downingtown was always packed. In fact, the last time I visited Downingtown (last week), I didn't even go to Wegmans because it was so crowded. Just down the road a bit from Wegmans is a Wal-Mart. It was crowded too. Both stores were succeeding because both stores are offering a good variety of new and fresh products, at a reasonable price, in comfortable surroundings.

    Wegmans came into the Downingtown area about three years ago. There were already several established giant grocery stores in the Downingtown area. Croppers, Acme, Giant, Clemens, and another one whose name I forgot. These stores had the market cornered in Downingtown and they showed it over and over again by long check out lines, lack of variety, and high prices. Wegmans came in and viola! Competition! Only Acme remains. All the other stores closed. They went out of business. I don't feel sorry for them. I only feel sorry for the employees. Of course if they want to work at Wegmans, they will work in a non-union store.

    One union incident that is branded in my memory is when I worked at a bank in the 1970’s. I supervised the moving of office furniture and files from the old bank building to the new bank building. We had to use the elevator in the new building. The new building, which was still under construction, had an “elevator operator.” This was a member of the construction trade. Every time we used that elevator we had to pay him CASH for the “privilege” of using the elevator. If we didn’t pay cash the “elevator operator” would strictly observe his union work rule which only allowed construction equipment in the elevator. I was shocked. I reported this to my boss. He wasn’t shocked. He told me to pay the “elevator operator.” I still remember the smile on the “elevator operator’s” face every time I handed him $35 for the elevator ride. This, my boss told me, was “reality.” I thought to myself, some day this way of thinking will be found out and stopped. I think that day has arrived. This is just one reason I cannot work up too much sympathy for unions.

    It’s been awhile since we had a discussion Diane. It is always good to hear from you. I love a good dialogue.

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