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2000-12-13
Olympia, WA. Wal-Mart Workers Comp Decertified

Wal-Mart likes to tell communities they are "one of the best companies to work for...that's a reputation we work hard to preserve." Apparently the state of Washington didn't think Wal-Mart was working hard enough for its own people, because the state's Department of Labor and Industries announced last week the unprecedented step of decertifying Wal-Mart's handling of its own claims filed by injured workers. The state's unusual action means that as of March 15th, 2001, Wal-Mart will no longer have the authority to handle its own workman's comp claims. In Washington state, a company has the option to "self-insure" or to pay into the state's insurance system. Most employers in the state simply pay into the system (roughly 163,000 companies according to the Associated Press). But some 400 large companies are allowed to self-insure, which means they handle their own claims and pay nothing into the state w.c. system. Wal-Mart has 8,000 workers across 27 stores in Washington. But the state of Washington, after allowing Wal-Mart to self-insure for 7 years, has now lowered the boom. The Department of Labor and Industries told reporters that Wal-Mart's problems in handling injury claims have been chronic. Investigators determined that Wal-Mart was keeping many injured workers from getting the benefits they were entitled to, including payments for lost wages. It turns out Wal-Mart has been fined by the Department no less than 66 times, and assessed penalties of more than $31,000. Most common among the violations by Wal-Mart was not paying their workers for lost wages, and failing to act on claims within 2 months. By decertifying Wal-Mart as a self-insurer, the state is forcing the company to cough up $4 million in premiums to the state, which is quite a bit more than the $1.5 million the company paid in claims last year. The AP report said that Wal-Mart reacted to the decertification as if it "came as a surprise" to them. "We've told them what they need to do," said Gary Moore, Washington director of the Department of Labor & Industries. "Despite our efforts, despite their promises, they've missed the mark. That's why we're taking this action today." The state claims that Wal-Mart repeatedly failed to allow claims to be filed by injured workers, failed to provide time-loss compensation until the state ordered them to pay, was late with lost wage payments, and sometimes cut workers off prematurely. Wal-Mart workers filed 888 claims last year, but the state said because of Wal-Mart's "consistently poor record-keeping", the Labor & Industries office "cannot be sure how many claims were never filed."

What you can do: Based on these figures, more than 10% of Wal-Mart's employees filed injury claims last year, on a full-time equivalent position comparison. The company that prides itself on its state-of-the-art computer technology to get products on shelves 'just in time', and has one of the most sophisticated data systems ever created, is accused by public officials of maintaining "consistently poor records" when it comes to its own injured worker's claims. Last September, when the state of Wisconsin went after Wal-Mart for predatory pricing, the company said it would improve its record-keeping in the future to ensure compliance with state law. Wal-Mart's rhetoric is that "people are the key ingredient in the success of the company." If Washington is correct, Wal-Mart was unable to ensure that its own "associates" who were injured on the job got the benefits that workers at other companies enjoyed. What does that tell you about the world's largest retail employer? For thousands of Wal-Mart workers, the worker's comp system at Wal-Mart was like adding injury to insult. Is this just one more way that "everyday low prices" are kept low -- by denying injured workers their compensation pay? Thanks to Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self Reliance for passing this news story on to Sprawl-Busters.










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

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