Friday, September 01, 2006

'Dead Peasant Insurance' And Other Weird Tales Of Wally World: Don't Buy Cheesy Wal-Mart PR


As Wal-Mart continues a campaign to burnish its skinflint image, recent events belie this effort. Here are some developments that show that this petty, miserly corporation hasn't changed:

  • Chain Store Age reported on July 20 that a U.S. federal judge struck down a Maryland law that required Wal-Mart to provide health insurance for employees in the state. (Wal-Mart shares rose 2 percent after the news.)

  • Wal-Mart bitterly fought a proposed ordinance in Chicago that requires "big box" stores to pay a minimum wage of $10 an hour plus at least $3 an hour worth of benefits. The New York Times reported on July 27 that the measure passed, 35-14, and that a gallery crowded with supporters "broke into cheers." The city's first Wal-Mart is set to open soon -- and it may be the last, some sources say. The City Council majority was veto-proof; but of course, court challenges are likely.

  • Deutsche Welle reported on July 28 that Wal-Mart is closing up shop in Germany, where it had been struggling since 1998. Analysts said the company's attempt to apply the U.S. model (cheap goods made possible by low wages) was a "fiasco" in Germany. There were conflicts with unions, and also with the culture. For example, employees "were forbidden ... from dating colleagues in positions of influence. Workers were also told not to flirt with one another."

  • Remember "dead peasant insurance"? That was a pundit's description of a practice by hundreds of employers, Wal-Mart among them, of having insurers write policies on the lives of low-wage workers. These "corporate-owned life insurance policies" turned mighty sour on the retail giant.

Andrews Publications writer Frank Reynolds reported on July 24:

"Discount retailing giant Wal-Mart cannot sue its insurers just because it gambled and lost $1.3 billion on getting a tax break from thousands of insurance policies it took out on employees, according to a brief filed by the insurers in the Delaware Supreme Court.

"Press reports have dubbed the 'corporate-owned life insurance' policies at issue in this litigation 'dead peasant insurance' because most of the policies were purchased by companies that employ large numbers of workers at the lower end of the wage scale and most of the policy benefits went to the companies rather than to families of deceased employees.

"Wal-Mart is contending in an appeal that it was entitled to rely on its expert insurance brokers to warn the company of the inherent dangers of buying COLI policies. Wal-Mart has asked the high court to revive its bad-faith and breach-of-duty claims against its insurers, which the Delaware Chancery Court had dismissed."

As of July 2005, six states had outlawed that practice in cases in which the employee is not told, Wikipedia reports. The online encyclopedia also states:

"Wal-Mart is one of those companies under fire from the US Internal Revenue Service and labor organizations for the practice. The IRS considers COLI a tax dodge, and has pursued Dow Chemical, Camelot Music, Winn-Dixie and American Electric Power, among others, to recover tax underpayments.

"The practice of using COLI is still widespread ... According to one source, Hartford Life Insurance estimated that one-quarter of all Fortune 500 companies have COLI policies, which cover the lives of about 5 million employees. Wal-Mart alone has policies on 350,000 employees."

MSN Money writer Liz Pulliam Weston has reported:

"-- Companies pay a whopping $8 billion in premiums each year for such coverage, according to the American Council of Life Insurers, a trade group.

"-- The policies make up more than 20% of all the life insurance policies sold each year.

"-- Companies expect to reap more than $9 billion in tax breaks from these policies over the next five years. The policies are treated as whole life policies. So, companies can borrow against the policies (though the IRS won't let them write off the interest). And the death benefits are tax-free."

That this practice by corporate ghouls became so widespread is the stuff outrageous scandals are made of. Yet this story, developing over years, was largely ignored by the mainstream media when it should have been on every front page and a lead story on every newscast.

But, back to Wal-Mart: Just name any enormity, any exploitative practice, any labor abuse -- and the folks at Wally World have done it. The company has resolutely fought any and every effort to genuinely improve the lot of its "associates."

And if recent developments are any indication, the cheesy PR campaign and measly "lower-cost" health care plan are like putting a pretty little Band-Aid on a hatchet wound. Folks at Wally World -- get real. Lots of shoppers aren't going to buy it.



Anonymous said...

How long will the people in this country put up with corporate welfare? And how long will the Republicans get away with selling this snake oil as "capitalism" and picking our pockets to pay billions to their corporate contributors at Halliburton?

Karen McL said...

Ghouls is right! Blood-sucking Ghouls sre these folks.

Anonymous said...

Despite their ad claims, WalMart does NOT always have the lowest prices. Do some shopping around, and you'll find that WalMart prices can be higher on some items.

Anonymous said...

Wal-Mart is one of the biggest recipients of corporate welfare. When Wal-Mart opens a new store, it typically gets taxpayer dollars for infrastructure improvements (water and sewer line linkups, traffic signals, service roads). Wal-Mart's business model has run into problems in many places (Europe, S. Korea, etc.) because it isn't able to collect the corporate welfare there that it routinely does here. Wal-Mart is also a master of securing tax abatements, so it doesn't pay a penny for any of the above. Next time you shop at Wal-Mart consider that you paying much higher prices that what the items are marked.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it interesting how while Wal-Mart has flopped in a number of countries, it has done really well in Mexico. (This is a country that, like the U.S., has a tiny wealthy, corrupt elite, which likes to enrich itself with corporate welfare). Wal-Mart should feel right at home there.

Anonymous said...


1) You believe that drug addiction is a moral failing and a crime, unless the addict is a millionaire conservative radio jock which then makes it an "illness" and he needs our prayers for his "recovery".
2) You believe that those privileged from birth achieve success all on their own.
3) You believe that the US should get out of the UN, and that our highest national priority is to enforce the UN's resolutions against Iraq.
4) You believe that government should stay out of people's lives but it needs to punish anyone caught having private sex with the "wrong" gender.
5) You believe that pollution is okay, so long as it makes a profit.
6) You believe in prayer in schools, as long as they don't pray to Allah or Buddha.
7) "Standing Tall for America" means firing your workers and moving their jobs to India.
8) You believe that a woman cannot be trusted with decisions about her own body, but that large multi-national corporations can make decisions affecting all mankind with no regulation whatsoever.
9) You believe that you love Jesus and Jesus loves you, and that Jesus shares your hatred of homosexuals and Hillary.
10) You hate the ALCU for representing convicted felons, but they owed it to the country to bail out Oliver North.
11) You believe that the best way to encourage military morale is to praise the troops overseas while cutting their VA benefits.
12) You believe that group sex and drug use are degenerate sins that can only be purged by running for governor of California as a Republican.
13) You believe it is wise to keep condoms out of schools, because we all know if teenagers don't have condoms they won't have sex.
14) You believe that the best way to fight terrorism is to alienate our allies and then demand their cooperation and money.
15) You believe that government medicine is wrong and that HMOs and insurance companies have your best interests at heart.
16) You believe that giving free health care to all Iraqis is sound government policy but giving free health care to Americans is socialism.
17) You believe that tobacco's link to cancer and global warming are "junk science", but Creationism should be taught in schools.
18) You believe that waging war with no exit strategy was wrong in Vietnam but right in Iraq.
19) You believe that Saddam was a good guy when Reagan armed him, a bad guy when Bush's daddy made war on him, a good guy when Cheney was doing business with him, and a bad guy when Bush needed a "we can't find Bin Laden" diversion.
20) You believe that government should restrict itself to just the powers named in the Constitution, which includes banning gay marriages and censoring the internet.
21) You believe that the public has a right to know about the adulterous affairs of Democrats, while those of Republicans are a "private matter".
22) You believe that the public has a right to know about Hillary's cattle trades but that Bush was right to censor 28 pages from the Congressional 9.11 report because you just can't handle the truth.
23) You support state rights, which means Ashcroft telling states what locally passed voter initiatives he will allow them to have.
24) You believe that what Clinton did in the 1960's is of vital national interest but what Bush did in the 80s is "stale news" and "irrelevant".
25) You believe that trade with Cuba is wrong because it is communist, but trading with China and Vietnam is good for business.