The Public Square

Robert Naiman on Wal-Mart’s Wages and Benefits


Hi, I'm Robert Naiman, longtime Urbana resident, alumnus of the University of Illinois in math and economics and former member of the Champaign County Board.

If you live in Champaign County, you probably know that there is a new Wal-Mart store in Urbana. On January 31, 40 people joined an informational picket sponsored by the Jobs with Justice Organizing Committee at the "Grand Opening" of the new store. Our purpose was to protest the employment practices of the Wal-Mart Corporation.

Wal-Mart is notorious for paying wages that place its employees below the federal poverty line; for failing to provide affordable health insurance to its employees; for violating labor laws on working hours, child labor, and the right to organize; and for practicing discrimination, against its female employees for example, who have sued Wal-Mart in the largest lawsuit of its kind in history.

Wal-Mart likes to portray itself as a friend of low-income people because it offers low prices. But it is not a friend of the low-income people who work in its stores. On average, large firms in the United States provide health insurance for two-thirds of their employees, but Wal-Mart covers less than half its employees. One in seven Wal-Mart employees has no health insurance at all, double the national average for large firms. About 1 in 40 uninsured workers at large firms nationwide are Wal-Mart employees. In the absence of a national health insurance system in the United States, Wal-Mart is unfairly competing with other firms by shifting its health care costs onto the taxpayer. In response, Maryland passed legislation requiring employers like Wal-Mart to spend 8% of payroll on health care, and other states are expected to follow suit. Here in East Central Illinois we can also hold Wal-Mart to account. Let your elected officials know that you don't think Wal-Mart should be allowed to make super profits by mistreating its employees.

Jobs with Justice is a national organization campaigning for workers' rights. A local chapter is currently being formed.