Wal-Mart Fighting Urban Legend

Jan 13, 2005

By George Anderson

Wal-Mart’s chief executive, Lee Scott, says an “urban legend” has grown up around his company and it’s time to dispel the myth.

This urban legend doesn’t involve things that go bump in the night but it’s even more frightening to Mr. Scott and those who want to keep Wal-Mart union-free.

It’s the criticism that Wal-Mart doesn’t pay its associates very well, that its employee medical insurance program is either too costly and/or inadequate to meet the needs of those the company employs. The result, according to those spreading the legend, is taxpayers wind up subsidizing Wal-Mart as many of its employees seek various types of public assistance.

Not true, say Mr. Scott and Wal-Mart supporters. And just like the Howard Beale character in the movie Network (I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more), Wal-Mart is coming out fighting.

Beginning today, the retailer is going on a media offensive with a national advertising blitz, including
an open letter in more than 100 newspapers, a Web site, www.walmartfacts.com, and appearances by its CEO on television
and talk radio programs.

In the letter (download a copy here — Adobe Acrobat
required), Mr. Scott argues his company is working for the greater good. “The truth is Wal-Mart provides great value for customers, opportunities for our workforce, economic support
for communities and a helping hand for charities across America. We work hard to make life better for everyone.”

The company’s opponents, he alleges, “make up their own facts” to smear Wal-Mart and are looking out only for their own self-interest.

In an interview with USA Today, Mr. Scott said he’s not concerned about some thinking this new campaign is about protecting Wal-Mart’s self-interest in remaining the low-price leader in the marketplace.

“As long as what we’re communicating is factual, there’s no downside. If we put this out and people disagree with it or they want to discuss it, if what they’re discussing are the facts, then we come out just fine.”

Moderator’s Comment: Will Wal-Mart’s campaign to set the facts straight about its employment practices change how people inside and outside the company
view it?

We’re going to avoid answering our own question here and instead report what came to mind when we first read the story.

Back when we were partly in the job of keeping a group of store managers, their employees and a number of internal reports happy working for our then employer,
turkeys were given out as a Christmas bonus one year.

One particularly outspoken employee (okay, guilty as charged) wondered aloud if most wouldn’t prefer to get the bonus in cash, however little, than get
a turkey. After all, we already had a turkey for the holiday.

As it turned out, most of those we were responsible for managing felt the same way. We know, because we asked them. Long story short, we gave people the option of a) keeping the company turkey or b) donating it to a local food bank or other charity serving the needy and receiving a personal check for the equivalent
value of the turkey.

What happened? Let’s just say that a) it was a good thing that we were newly married and our better half hadn’t yet discovered all our faults and b) besides
the turkey, we also got a fairly larger performance bonus that year.

If we were a Wal-Mart associate working for twice the minimum wage, we’d be wondering why the company was spending so much on dispelling the “urban legend.”
Write us a check. We’ll dispel the legend ourselves.

George Anderson – Moderator

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