Union publicizes Wal-Mart workers' skimpy health plan

Stepping up the pressure against the largest and most virulently anti-union employer in the U.S., the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) has launched a major holiday drive against Wal-Mart.

UFCW members, affiliates of the Change to Win labor federation, and their allies fanned out in front of Wal-Mart stores nationwide Oct. 29 as part of a Halloween candy sale to highlight Wal-Mart’s health care practices and to raise money for Wal-Mart workers who go without company-provided health insurance.

Tigard-based UFCW Local 555 held “Nothing’s Scarier Than Not Having Health Care” events at Wal-Mart stores on Southeast 82nd Avenue in Portland, in Troutdale, and in Salem, said Secretary-Treasurer Lin Mayes.

Mayes was joined by more than a dozen protesters, including Oregon AFL-CIO President-elect Tom Chamberlain and Secretary-Treasurer Brad Witt, at the Wal-Mart store on Southeast 82nd Avenue and Holgate. Witt is a business representative for Local 555.

“The scary fact is that over 600,000 Wal-Mart workers are not covered by Wal-Mart’s health care plan,” said Mayes. “With over $10 billion in profits, Wal-Mart should wake up and provide affordable health care to its workers today.”

The Halloween fundraising drive is the latest effort by WakeUpWalMart.com to change Wal-Mart into a more responsible employer. Following the release of WakeUpWalMart.com’s “Six Demands for Change” the organization surpassed 112,000 supporters in 50 states — making WakeUpWalMart.com the nation’s largest grass-roots effort to change the world’s largest employer.

The Halloween event came on the heels of an Oct. 27 report in the New York Times about an internal Wal-Mart memo revealing plans to discriminate against the disabled. In the memo, executive vice president for benefits Susan Chambers, suggests Wal-Mart should not hire certain workers “because they may be unhealthy or obese.”  It also admits: “Wal-Mart has a significant percentage of associates (workers) and their children on public assistance,” due to its low pay and bad benefits.

 Paul Blank, director of the Wake Up Wal-Mart drive, called the memo “simply appalling.” He said it shows Wal-Mart “robs workers of their human dignity and instead treats them like products in their stores.”

With TV cameras rolling, a Portland police officer asks union members to move their Halloween candy sale’s table, set up in front of a Wal-Mart store on SE 82nd Ave. in Portland, off the private property. Among those selling candy to help Wal-Mart employees without health insurance were from left: Oregon AFL-CIO President-elect Tom Chamberlain, Secretary-Treasurer Brad Witt, Alliance for Retired Americans member Michael Arken, and UFCW Local 555 Secretary-Treasurer Lin Mayes.

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