Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Saturday, February 18, 2006

"Wal-Mart's not the real culprit"

And yet another great column on the "Wal-Mart Bill", this time from guest commentator Michael Costello in today's Lewiston Tribune:
"If we didn't get it this year, we're going to get it next year." Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire promised an assemblage of union goons Thursday. What she wants, but couldn't deliver this year, and threatens to inflict next year, is the seductively titled Fair Share Health Care.

Fair Share Health Care was a law that would have forced large employers (read Wal-Mart) to impose health insurance upon their employees who currently choose not to buy it.

The law would have required employers with more than 5,000 employees to spend 9 percent of their payroll on health insurance. Wal-Mart currently employs 16,000 Washingtonians, and 3000 of that number availed themselves of the state's Medicaid program in 2003, costing the taxpayers about $12 million. So it's being peddled as fiscal responsibility for taxpayers.

But before we go further, let's get one thing straight. Regardless of what union goons or their Olympian puppets might say, it is not the Wal-Mart corporation that declines to provide its employees with health insurance. It's you and me.

Wal-Mart bears no more responsibility for that condition than Exxon or Shell deserves blame for all of the pump jockeys who lost their jobs when most gas stations went to self-service in the 1970s. We, the consumers, made that decision when we decided that the pump jockey's job was not as important to us as saving a few cents per gallon on gas.

I know. I was trying to put myself through college working at a gas station. Once self-service pumps were offered, my job and the jobs of my coworkers were doomed. The same goes for big-box retail. Given a choice between the lowest prices and the supposed moral high ground of buying from a retailer that charges more, but includes health insurance as part of its compensation package, we will choose the lower priced retailer.

Wal-Mart's success is that it sells for less. If forced to raise prices, it will be made vulnerable to the same market forces that spelled the doom of Montgomery Wards and others who were displaced by Wal-Mart.

And you can forgive Wal-Mart if it doesn't wish to suffer the same fate that now hangs over the heads of General Motors and Ford. Both of these big automakers are facing bankruptcy in large part due to the generous health insurance packages forced upon them by unions.

And incidentally, big labor has embraced the practice of hiring non-union labor to perform dirty jobs its members find beneath their dignity.

Last summer, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union hired non-union help to picket a Wal-Mart in the Las Vegas area for only $6 per hour. The picketers were recruited from the ranks of the unemployed, bussed to the Wal-Mart, handed signs and pushed out into triple-digit heat.

Real union members and real Wal-Mart employees on whose behalf this was supposedly done did not think the effort was worth the discomfort. And of course, these picketers received no health insurance or other benefits from the union.

The carpenters' union uses the same tactic. It hires the homeless to picket non-union construction sites.

"We're giving jobs to people who didn't have jobs, people who in some cases couldn't secure work," was the excuse proffered by George Eisner, the head of the mid- Atlantic regional council of the carpenters' union.

Why can't Wal-Mart use that excuse? They're giving jobs to uneducated and unskilled people who otherwise couldn't get them. And, unlike their union mercenary picketer counterparts, Wal-Mart employees are offered health insurance subsidies. But they are optional. To get health insurance, individual Wal-Mart workers only have to pay $17.50 from their biweekly paycheck. Purchasing for a family only costs $70.50. The company kicks in the rest, which is considerable. If most Wal-Mart employees choose not to take advantage of this, that's their decision. The unions don't believe in this sort of freedom.

And if, as the union goons and their puppets maintain, these employees end up costing the state's Medicaid program, it would seem that the voluntarily uninsured employees should be held accountable for their irresponsibility. Maybe they should be required to shoulder more of the expense, and the taxpayer less, so that Wal-Mart's offer seems a better deal.

But it is more in the nature of union puppets to blame evil big business than to hold individuals accountable for their own irresponsibility.
Of course our unelected governor is pandering to the unions. What choice does she have? Entering the second year of her reign, Queen Christine has a 54% disapproval rating, almost as bad as President Bush's in this deeply Blue State. A similar percentage of the public, 55%, thinks Washington is headed in the wrong direction. Even worse for Chris, she loses to Dino Rossi in 2008 by twenty points. Her only prayer politically is to makes as many concessions as she can to big labor and hope for more dead/double/felon voters in King County.

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