Wal-Mart This Work Will Discuss Two Problems Essay

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This work will discuss two problems or issues in my work setting (Wal-Mart) for their significant ethical implications. The work will look at ethical, legal and value principles in the face of the issues or problems. Wal-Mart has taken considerable grief and many legal hits over the last ten years, in part because of its massive size but also because of its massive success and arguably bad ethical decision making in the past. Wal-Mart is constantly under the eye of society, despite and because of its popularity and success. The two most logical ethical problems or concerns I have with my workplace are therefore reflective of two of the biggest compliant made against Wal-Mart, both which have to do with employee treatment and to some degree conditions. I myself have not experienced stressors associated with these issues but have watched as others have and would support that both have a reflected undercurrent in the way that Wal-Mart does business with its employees.

Wal-Mart and Union Busting

Union Busting arguments against Wal-Mart claim that the chain spends a significant amount of money each year ensuring that its employees do not join unions. Though these tactics are highly secretive and hard to prove former workers, and the press that has adopted them, claim union-busting is rampant and that employees are frequently bullied by management not to join or involve themselves in union activities and removed from the schedule (rather than fired) if they do (O'Loughlin, 2006). The only way to really document these activities is through anecdotal evidence as former employees provide biased "proof" of union-busting at Wal-Mart or through what some say is coincidental business and department closures associated with unionized sites (Farfan, 2009).

Additionally; the ethical violation is one of choice, not of right. It should be noted that union memberships and formations are not necessarily the best friend of the worker, as though collective bargaining might become possible employees, especially in low wage professions may find that joining a union feels a lot like paying a lot to get a little, as members are required to pay union dues, attend and support union functions (even stop work during a strike with limited or no compensation) and in short stretch their limited resources even further with no guarantee of better conditions, wages or benefits. The ethical violation then would surround the fact that all employees should have the choice of joining a union or not, and should not under any circumstances have that membership (or lack of membership) be a condition of employment. Though this is often the case in some industries, as union membership is a condition of employment that is rarely the case in the retail sector. With all these facts in hand many Wal-Mart employees are still adamantly attempting to unionize, most likely because they have been told they cannot by overt and covert action, some of which include Wal-Mart closing entire stores within a year of unionization and eliminating entire departments of their stores (across the country) when one store department in a single store successfully unionized (Farfan, 2009). Farfan in fact notes that thousands of workers are still signing union cards even in the face of the fact that Wal-Mart has never allowed a store or department that has done so to exist for more than a year (2009).

The reality is that there is simply no data to back up the reported union busting that is said to take place at Wal-Mart. Regardless of anecdotal evidence, the legal actions on the part of Wal-Mart are fundamentally tied up and if they are not then Wal-Mart is more likely to settle lawsuits out of court than allow the complaints to go public through the trial process (Farfan, 2009) The only way the ethical environment will be improved surrounding this issue is for Wal-Mart to become more transparent in their actions, as they are stressing ethics as their most ardent new corporate social responsibility strategy (Murphy, 2010). Most argue that until Wal-Mart allows unionization as an option to employees they will continue to fight ardently for it (Bergdahl, 2009). Finally, as Farfan (2009) points out the biggest challenges to a mass retailer giant like Wal-Mart come in the form of massive action on the part of employees, when more employees than Wal-Mart can easily discredit and eliminate rise up and respond to pressure against unionization Wal-Mart will be more likely to relent and allow unionization.

Wal-Mart and HealthCare Coverage

According to some critics of Wal-Mart their business tactics surrounding health care coverage of workers is unethical as they create limitations of coverage eligibility based upon low wages and large percentage of part time rather than full time workers to offset costs of paying for or offering affordable health coverage. Wal-Mart also continues to support and encourage employees not eligible for health benefits to seek public assistance. These claims are not new, and in fact are recurrent media claims in discussions about Wal-Mart which is currently the largest retail employer in the nation. WakeUpWalmart, a consumer and employee rights organization backed by several unions claims that more than 700,000 employees of Wal-Mart have no health benefit, while Wal-Mart claims that of the 1.4 million people it employees in the U.S., 1 million are eligible and 94.5% of its associates have coverage ("Union-Backed Web Site…" 2009).

The AFL-CIO recently made public a report that claims that; According to the report, "Wal-Mart's refusal to pay decent wages and provide affordable health insurance to its workers puts it atop the list in at least 19 of the 23 states surveyed here. This abuse of poverty health care programs means Wal-Mart is directly contributing to the nation's Medicaid crisis," (Geisel, 2006, p. 30). While Wal-Mart retorts with the claim that the data used by the report is both flawed and out of date and that it has made extensive strides toward expanding health care coverage to its workers and even went so far as to expand, at great expense, health care coverage to part-time employees children (O'Laughlin, 2006).

The report says, for example, that in Maine about 10% of Wal-Mart employees get health insurance through Medicaid and other public assistance programs, while in New Jersey, Wal-Mart had more employees and dependents enrolled in Medicaid than any other employer, even though Wal-Mart is only the 8th-largest employer in the state (Geisel, 2006, p. 30).

The business tactic of controlling costs of benefits, and extreme allocation for any large employer, is not unusual and is practiced in similar ways by hundreds if not thousands of employers. Yet, Wal-Mart gets attacked for it because of the economy of scale. The massive number of associates that work for Wal-Mart at any given time are a significant portion of the whole of those who are employable in the whole U.S.. According to PBS Wal-Mart employs more people than any other company in the U.S., second only to the U.S. government (PBS Documentary: Store Wars, 2001).

Due to the economy of scale issue, if Wal-Mart utilizes unethical business practices, such as eliminating employee eligibility for health care coverage and encouraging individuals with low wages to seek public assistance than they are creating a bigger problem, collectively than a smaller employer would be. From a legal perspective, Wal-Mart is doing nothing wrong (until laws change, which they might) yet ethically it is supporting poverty, rather than success. Individuals who work for low wages and have no benefits are fundamentally barred from access to so many things, including but not limited to the right to health and wellness. The result might be as destructive to communities as almost any other issue facing Wal-Mart and other employers, as increasing the welfare rolls to give shareholders greater profits benefits no one in the long-term and severely limits resources…

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