IMAGE PROBLEMS….Wal-Mart is running some ads in an effort to spruce up its image:

The TV commercial opens with a young couple on a sofa smiling at their toddler son. As the boy nuzzles a stuffed animal and hugs his mother, his father explains that the youngster was born with liver disease and underwent two major surgeries by the time he was 7 months old.

“It’s nice to know that I work for a company that would take care of everything we went through,” the man says. The ad cuts to the man at work, wearing a familiar blue vest with white logo, as he says: “I don’t think people know how great the benefits are at Wal-Mart. Without Wal-Mart, he wouldn’t — I don’t know that he’d have made it. I don’t know that we would have made it.”

….In a multi-pronged counterattack, the world’s biggest company — the most feared and powerful competitor in global retail — is seeking to hang onto its image as America’s friendly hometown merchant.

It is stepping up its slate of feel-good television ads in 2004, with more spots featuring happy employees as well as examples of Wal-Mart’s community involvement. Wal-Mart has also sharply increased its political donations, becoming the second-biggest giver to candidates in the 2004 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The Wall Street Journal provides a different picture:

Wal-Mart makes new hourly workers wait six months to sign up for its benefits plan and doesn’t cover retirees at all. Its deductibles range as high as $1,000, triple the norm. It refuses to pay for flu shots, eye exams, child vaccinations, chiropractic services and numerous other treatments allowed by many other companies. In many cases, it won’t pay for treatment of pre-existing conditions in the first year of coverage.

What’s more, Wal-Mart charges its workers a lot for healthcare coverage ? as much as 10-15% of their wages ? and has increased premiums by 200% since 1993, far higher than the rate of medical inflation. Result: many workers can’t afford to sign up for coverage and some of them end up getting healthcare via Medicaid. In other words, via tax dollars.

For better or worse, part of the social contract in America since World War II has been that large corporations provide decent healthcare for their workers. Refusing to do so is a core part of Wal-Mart’s strategy for squeezing every last nickel out of its workforce, and they deserve all the scorn they get for their efforts to force an entire industry down to their subterranean level.

This ad campaign is revolting. Truly their shame knows no limits.

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