Times are tough for the richest family in the United States. The Waltons, and the executives they pay millions of dollars to run their Walmart empire, say they will stop providing health insurance for nearly 30,000 part-time workers to save money because, hey, when it comes to choosing between profits and the literal health of your employees, the answer is simple. That’s the Walmart promise.
According to an announcement made on Walmart’s corporate blog, the company informed employees that many of them would likely be losing their health coverage, but not to worry because everyone is doing it.
We will continue to provide affordable health care to all eligible associates, including part-time, who work more than 30 hours. However, similar to other retailers like Target, Home Depot, Walgreens and Trader Joe’s, we will no longer be providing health benefits to part-time associates who work less than 30 hours. This will impact about 2% of our total U.S. workforce.
But if two percent seems small, it’s not. As you may have noticed, Walmart is a massive corporation. It employs millions of people, both in its ubiquitous retail stores and across the country in shipping, warehousing, and manufacturing. In fact, it’s the largest private sector employer in the United States. Cutting just a fraction of those employees’ health insurance represents tens of thousands of people.
The company is quick to defend itself by pointing out that this is merely for people who work less than 30 hours a week, so many part-timers will maintain their health insurance. Unfortunately, that’s not the whole story. In almost all cases, it is the store and not the employee that decides how many hours he or she will work each week. Walmart, like other corporations, is obsessive about ensuring employees don’t work enough hours to qualify for employee protections. For example, if a manager knows that an employee is about to hit 30 hours (and therefore qualify for a whole suite of benefits) they may be encouraged to cut him or her loose early to avoid it. In this way, the company can systematically deprive its employees of benefits while maintaining an image of social responsibility.
For those families, Walmart’s latest attempt to squeeze out profits by shortchanging its employees must be hard, but not surprising. Walmart has tapped that well many times. So often, in fact, that according to some estimates, Walmart employees are the single largest group of Medicaid recipients (even before tens of thousands will be forced into government-backed health insurance due to this latest cost-saving measure) and the single biggest group of food stamp recipients.
It’s important to note that all of this is not due to cold, hard reality getting in the way of wishful thinking. Walmart could treat its employees better, it just doesn’t want to, because that would mean less money for the Waltons and the Waltons really, really like being rich.
If you’ve ever wondered how the Waltons stay the richest family in the country, the answer is: almost entirely through loopholes, tax dodges, and ethically murky dealings.
In an article for Bloomberg, writer Zachary Mider documents the almost-comically absurd lengths the family has gone to in order to avoid paying even a single penny more than they have to back to the country that has given them so much.
Alice Walton’s mother and brother poured more than $9 billion into trusts since 2003 that fund charitable projects like Crystal Bridges and are also designed to protect gifts to heirs from taxation. Another Walton pioneered a tax-avoidance maneuver that is now widely used by U.S. billionaires.
That’s right. The Waltons are so good at avoiding the tax man that other billionaires plagiarize their tax dodging techniques. They’ve turned greed into an artform.
So while Walmart may be sending its employees to the social welfare lines, it certainly doesn’t need to do so to remain profitable. Last year, for example, Demos found that Walmart wound up with such massive profits at the end of the year that they could effectively raise the wages of every employee by around 50 percent and still have money left over. Instead, they used around $7.6 billion on buybacks of their own stock — a Wall Street shell game used to artificially raise their share prices, which leads to executives and shareholders making healthy piles of cash and helping precisely no one else.
In the meantime, Walmart requires the American government to bail out its employees on a yearly basis. Paying workers at rates far below the living wage, they encourage employees to enroll in any and every government assistance program they can find in order to subsidies their terrible income at a cost of billions of dollars a year to the taxpayers. In a telling example from last winter, the company came under fire after it came to light that they were hosting a food drive at their stores… for their own employees.
After the story — a perfect example of Walmart’s lack of self-awareness — became a national outrage, the store pulled the food donation bins and apologized, but didn’t give any employees a raise.