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2004-09-23
San Jose, CA. Wal-Mart Buys Newspaper Ads to Repair Damaged Image

Instead of advertising its everyday low prices, and instead of giving its workers a raise, the Wal-Mart corporation has chosen instead to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a continuing public relations campaign designed to make it appear to be a generous employer. Having been battered from coast to coast by major employee lawsuits, investigations of its use of illegal workers, defeat at the polls in local communities, the world's largest retailer is trying to talk above the bad noise by recasting its image as a right wing, good old boy culture, to a good corporate citizen. The media responded to Wal-Mart's latest PR campaign by saying the company was "going on the offensive" to shed its bad corporate reputation, forged so carefully over the past decade. Today, Wal-Mart ran full page display ads in 15 California newspapers, including the San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle and Oakland Tribune. This is a rare event for Wal-Mart, since the company almost never buys newspaper column inches, preferring TV, radio, or direct mail as its preferred form of publicity. In today's ads, Wal-Mart claimed that its workers earn an average wage of $10.37 an hour, that 80% of its "associates" are full-time (which means 36 hours), and that full and part time workers get medical insurance and other benefits. The company does not reveal that 45% of its workforce quits each year, and that many workers leave the company before they become eligible for benefits like health insurance. In 2001, the average female cashier at Wal-Mart made just over $8.00 an hour. The company also did not reveal it was busted for buying life insurance for its workers that named the company as the beneficiary. The company did not reveal the details of its high deductible health plan that makes some workers skip buying the plan altogether because of the low benefits. The ads also claim that California consumers will save $3.7 billion, or $589 per household if Wal-Mart reaches 20% market share. Why any consumer would want one company to control one-fifth of the market seems strange, and no independent confirmation of Wal-Mart's figures were presented. The company did not reveal the $2,000 annual cost to the U.S. taxpayer to subsidize benefits for an average Wal-Mart worker. The company never talks about the lost jobs, lost sales and lower wages that would take hold if Wal-Mart managed to displace other retailers that now hold the 20% share that Wal-Mart wants. Wal-Mart also says it purchased $8 billion in goods from 4,600 California companies to sell in its stores, but gave no figures on how much its imported goods from China are worth, and how many Californians will have their wages lowered because of the concessions made by grocery unions in the recent southern California strike, which was basically all about Wal-Mart. Other grocery chains have forced unionized workers to accept a two-tiered wage system in which new hires are paid less of a starting wage than existing employees when they were hired.

What you can do: Wal-Mart has been thrown completely off its game by its opponents over the past year. Instead of focusing on cheap underwear and promoting its strengths as a discounter, Wal-Mart is on the defensive, trying to "correct" the impression that it is being sued left and right by its own people. But the court actions and headlines speak for themselves. Wal-Mart cannot wish away the largest sexual discrimination lawsuit in U.S. retail history. Here is the most profitable retailer in the world now fighting to maintain a virtuous image. But Wal-Mart's toothpaste is out of the tube, and all the image squeezing in the world won't put it back in the container. Wal-Mart's grand plans for the Golden state have turned into lead.










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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