Monday, December 3, 2007

Wal-Mart's greed costs employees

By: Timothy Santelli
Atlanta Attorney

Wal-Mart sure had a lot to be thankful for this past Thanksgiving. With stores popping up all over the nation, the franchise continues to grow at an exponential rate. In 2005, The New York Times said that Wal-Mart makes $20,000 in profit every minute. That’s right. Wal-Mart makes $20,000 in every minute of every hour of every day in profit—not revenue—but profit. That profit margin, 3 times that of Target’s and nearly 11 times that of Cosco’s, apparently isn’t enough for super-giant. Now the corporation is going after its own employees.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal ran a cover story about Deborah Shank, a 52-year old woman who had worked for Wal-Mart for eight years. Mrs. Shank was in a catastrophic car accident seven years ago when a semi-trailer truck hit her, leaving her permanently brain-damaged.

Her husband and her three sons went to court and obtained a relatively small amount of money—considering her damages—to assist in paying for the healthcare costs. The settlement, after court expenses, and other costs, left the Shanks with $417,000 to be put in a special trust for the medical needs that the 52-year old woman would depend on for the rest of her life.
Wal-Mart got wind of the settlement and the mega-corporation sued the Shanks for $470,000—to recoup the expenses it had spent on her medical care. Now, the entire trust fund for Deborah Shanks’ healthcare is going back to the multi-billion dollar corporation.

Wal-Mart was able to take this money from a working employee because the mega-corporation includes a provision in their health care plan reserving the right to recoup any money recovered by an employee in a personal injury suit. The Shanks were unaware of this clause.

Making this situation even more outrageously unfair is that Mrs. Shanks paid hefty premiums for the optional health coverage provided by Wal-Mart. While an average full-time employee at Wal-Mart makes $17,114 a year—over 16% of that salary will go back to Wal-Mart for healthcare—healthcare with numerous deductibles. Over 16% is over twice the national average of employee insurance costs.

In Georgia, Wal-Mart is the #1 employer of parents with children enrolled in PeachCare. Every year Georgia’s taxpayers pay nearly $10 million dollars to cover the more than 10,000 children enrolled whose parents work full time at the corporation and still can’t afford insurance.
Yet Wal-Mart profits. At $20,000 a minute.

Six days before Wal-Mart claimed victory, the Shanks 18-year old son was killed while serving in Iraq. Now, with no settlement money, the Shanks’ family, without their son, is relying on Medicaid and Social Security payments for her 24-hour care. Mr. Shanks is working two jobs and barely has time to be with his wife. Her health is declining; she can’t remember that her son was killed in the war, only that he died. A health-care administrator told Mr. Shank that divorcing his wife would benefit the family as she may be eligible for more public aid. The Shanks lost on appeal at the Circuit Court. They hope the US Supreme Court will hear their case.

In just 23 and-a-half minutes, Wal-Mart made the money awarded to the Shanks in profit alone. But it’s not enough for the greedy corporation. They took that money from a working family—a family who lost their son in the war, a family without a mother who can care for her children through no fault of her own.

Wal-Mart sure had a lot to be thankful last Thanksgiving. If only the working families in America, like the Shanks, could say the same.

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