Sunday, February 29, 2004

A snapshot of Georgia's program for uninsured children shows that it's packed with kids of Wal-Mart employees.

A state survey found 10,261 of the 166,000 children covered by Georgia's PeachCare for Kids health insurance in September 2002 had a parent working for Wal-Mart Stores.

That's about 14 times the number for next highest employer: Publix, with 734.

Wal-Mart is the state's largest private employer. But when the top four companies on the list are measured by number of PeachCare children per the number of employees in Georgia, Wal-Mart still dominates.

The survey findings surface as Wal-Mart's pay, benefits and corporate policies have come under fire nationally. Labor unions and other critics have denounced the Arkansas-based retail giant for what they call low-wage, low-benefit jobs. And unions fear the influence Wal-Mart practices could have on employee benefits in all industries.

Georgia's PeachCare program was launched in 1998 to provide health insurance to children whose parents cannot afford or don't have access to those benefits. Wal-Mart said it does not encourage employees to use states' insurance plans for children or Medicaid, the federal-state program for the poor. "We offer affordable health coverage to all of our associates, both full time and part time," said Dan Fogleman, a spokesman for the company.

But the number of PeachCare children whose parents work for Wal-Mart struck a nerve with a local advocacy group for low-wage women.

"Most employees who make $7 to $8 an hour can't afford health insurance," said Cindia Cameron, organizing director of 9 to 5, National Association of Working Women. "When a very wealthy employer passes off to taxpayers what is rightfully a labor force cost, that's a serious public policy problem."

Old news, but still worth reporting. Only about a third of Wal-Mart's workforce opts for the company insurance program, which can cost as much as half their weekly salary (Wal-Mart considers 28 hours a week "full-time"), and doesn't cover much. The world's largest employer (over a million wage slaves, worldwide) can't, apparently, swing decent insurance coverage for its workers. And people still fall for the smiley face and cheap Singapore electronics. Seriously, the company uses their own employees in their commercials 'cause Sam Walton was the most miserly skinflint cheap bitch you've ever heard of, and you don't have to pay SAG rates if you just walk into your own store and shoot your employees while they're on shift.

If you'd like to be truly horrified by Wal-Mart and their ilk, pick up Nickel & Dimed in which a nicely successful writer goes out and tries to live (i.e., covering basic expenses for food, rent, clothing, etc) on $7 & $8-an hour jobs. Great book. Not that she's saying much that most of us don't already know from our own lives, but it's remarkable to watch her growing realization that cable tv, health clubs, new clothes, a proper diet or even housing are not things that can be considered "basic" to a whole lot of the working poor. When adequate foodstuffs and safe housing are items that a full-time job won't necessarily cover, there's something wrong with this fucking country.

But you knew that already, didn't you?

Btw, killed the transmission in the Maxima. Anybody in the SeaTac area wanna give ol' Billyhank a lift to work?

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