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Walmart Will Have to Do Better Than Gay Partner Benefits

Walmart Will Have to Do Better Than Gay Partner Benefits

Walmart has said that from 2014 it will offer same-sex partner benefits, but critics say this does nothing to change the fact that Walmart’s fight against a living wage is keeping people poor.

Announced this week, the decision means Walmart will soon offer a full range of benefits to employees with domestic partners — opposite or same sex and regardless of whether state law currently recognizes same-sex partners.

In a leaked internal memo obtained by gay interest blog Towleroad, vice president of benefits Sally Welborn told the retailer’s management division that this is a “business decision” as opposed to a political statement, with the letter reading in part:

It’s a business decision, not a moral or political decision. We operate in 50 states, hundreds of municipalities and Puerto Rico, and as clarified under the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), each of these states are developing different definitions of marriage, domestic partner, civil union, etc. By developing a single definition for all Walmart associates in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, we are able to ensure consistency for associates across our markets.

The Affordable Care Act (commonly referred to as “ObamaCare”) inextricably linked health insurance with employment. As such, for our associates for whom we offer health insurance, we want to be sure we are providing access to as many individuals and their families as possible.

The change will take effect across all 50 states in which Walmart has a hold, and has been described as “historic” for its wider significance.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, has hailed Walmart’s decision, saying in an email statement that as a former employee he is “moved by my former employer’s historic action that further proves equality is good business.” He added that Walmart “has sent a cultural signal that equality for LGBT people is the simplest of mainstream values.”

Indeed, while Walmart is by no means the first employer to to do this — it is in fact late to the game with many Fortune 500 companies having already created inclusive benefits packages such as Starbucks, it is the nation’s largest private employer and as such this decision puts pressure on other companies who are yet to offer such benefits to follow suit and cater for same-sex couples.

Further added to that pressure will be the heightened attention brought by the Supreme Court of the United States’ July decision in Windsor v United States that struck down as unconstitutional DOMA Section 3. DOMA banned the government from recognizing same-sex marriages and was a key go-to for businesses that wanted to save money and so deprive their LGB workers of partner benefits.

With that pillar of discrimination gone, businesses have seen the legal basis for their own discriminatory policies severely hit and many have since announced that they are redrawing their benefits packages.

However, not everyone has greeted Walmart’s news so warmly.

While accepting this is a significant move in terms of broader equal access to benefits for same-sex couples, employees and workers rights groups have pointed out that because of Walmart’s notoriously low wages many, whether gay or straight, will struggle to work enough hours to even qualify for these health benefits.

In fact, in its coverage of this issue, USA Today has a comment from Lucas Handy, an openly gay former Walmart associate from Fort Dodge, who says he is pleasantly “shocked” by the change but reminds that “The real issue with Walmart’s health care is that most of us are unable to afford the coverage.” Handy says his access to Walmart’s health care package was cut off when he was moved from a full-time position to part-time, but that because he made only $8.95 an hour anyway he would have had a hard time affording the coverage.

Hardy says he was fired for speaking out about Walmart’s labor policies and is now part of a union group attempting to force Walmart to change. Walmart maintains Handy was fired for a series of policy violations. Regardless, Handy’s story is certainly not unique and Walmart’s aggressively low wages and attempts to fight living wage legislation, including threatening to pull out of states where a minimum wage could be introduced, is well documented.

As such, just as Walmart’s trumpeting of its environmental practices were seen to be little more than greenwashing over sustainability and larger environmental concerns, Walmart’s new inclusive health care package appears to have done nothing to to divert attention from Walmart’s wider hostile workplace practices and its alleged abuses such as using child labor abroad.

In short, it appears Walmart will have to do better for all its employees before it can expect praise over matters like this.

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Image credit: Adam Kuban.

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84 comments

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3:34PM PDT on Sep 3, 2013

Of course it's a business decision, Valerie K. Businesses aren't charities so one would hardly expect any business to make decisions on the grounds of altruism. But what difference does that make?

I care not why anyone does a good thing - because it's the doing that counts in practical terms for the recipient (good thoughts may be nice but they won't buy the catfood). And it's usually considerate to thank those who do good things (and beneficial in the long run since one is less likely to do good if one is "damned if he does and damned if he doesn't".

1:59PM PDT on Sep 3, 2013

Cont.

But hey, maybe I'm being too harsh. After all they no longer discriminate. It doesn't matter what your race, gender, religion, age, handicap, and now, gender preference is. You too, are eligible for the same crap as everyone else.

1:58PM PDT on Sep 3, 2013

Interesting, what I'm hearing from the defenders is, "at least they are making an attempt", "this a step in the right direction", "this is a good step, & they should be congratulated for it", "good for Wal-Mart for giving same-sex partner benefits". Really? This is not Walmart trying to "make good", this is purely a business decision and has nothing to do with them giving a RA about their employees.

From their Sally Welborn, VP of benefits. "It’s a business decision, not a moral or political decision. We operate in 50 states, hundreds of municipalities and Puerto Rico, and as clarified under the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), each of these states are developing different definitions of marriage, domestic partner, civil union, etc. By developing a single definition for all Walmart associates in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, we are able to ensure consistency for associates across our markets."

They have stores in every state in the Union and some of those states have legalized same sex marriages. If Walmart didn't do this they would have to have two standards of benefits. One for the states that legalized it and another for those who haven't (yet). It is simply more cost effective for Walmart to standardize their operations. The only people who will benefit from this move are the upper echelons in the corporate offices. For the people actually doing the work it won't make one bit of difference.

But hey

6:57AM PDT on Sep 3, 2013

As long as the paycheck isn't even enough for a SINGLE person to be able to afford the necessities of life such as rent, food, utilities, AND decent health insurance, let alone someone trying to raise a FAMILY, any "benefits" offered simply don't mean DICK!

3:59AM PDT on Sep 3, 2013

Walmart will have to do better in a lot of cases!

8:08PM PDT on Sep 2, 2013

Walmart needs to learn to treat it's employees fairly, and pay a livable wage. If it cannot raise the wage it pays, and allow full time work, then it needs to be forced out of the country. If we can not stand up to corporate bullies, like Walmart, that made record profits last year, then workers will always be mistreated and greedy corporations will always get away with their abuses.

7:44PM PDT on Sep 2, 2013

Thank you.

6:55PM PDT on Sep 2, 2013

Terry T: Thanks, that was quite a simile but I kind of suspect crabs have some "survival" reason to do that while people pulling back other people are really being very self destructive since the more people are out of the hole the more they will be able to do things for others. As for salaries they should cover people's needs plus some extra amount for the time it took to attain the skills. The people cleaning and sweeping the public places are as much needed for our health as the MDs.. Well, utopia, but who knows...

6:31PM PDT on Sep 2, 2013

Walmart should worry about paying a livable wage. The people who work there can't afford insurance for themselves or their partners.

5:26PM PDT on Sep 2, 2013

I don't care what they do. When these places open it kills any small mom & pop shops and ruins towns.

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