Wal-Mart, Andy Stern And Healthcare

Wow. Someone has been reading my damn blog.

LIONS AND LAMBS….Union boss Andy Stern today:

It is time to admit that the employer-based health care system is dead — a relic of the industrial economy. America cannot compete in the new global economy when we are the only industrialized nation on earth that puts the price of healthcare on the cost of our products.

….And that’s why I chose to be here today, standing with several major corporations — some of whom I don’t always agree with, and of some of whom, frankly, I have been critical.

One of the companies joining him is Wal-Mart. Others include Intel, AT&T, and Kelly Services. Details are a little sketchy, but all of these companies — did I say Wal-Mart was one of them? — have decided to work together with SEIU to push for universal healthcare (of an undefined nature) by around 2012.

Stay tuned.

It is about time somebody figured out that Democrats need powerful allies to move healthcare reform forward, and it will never be the insurance biz. I have only pointed this out now in three separate posts. You can read those to get the gist of my point so I will just observe that it is very, very exciting to see Stern working together with Wal-Mart on this. For one, Wal-Mart is the single largest employer in America and a heavy contributor to party politics. That’s a lot of pull.

Equally interesting, Stern’s SEIU is naturally positioned to represent Wal-Mart’s 1.2 million employees in America. As most know Wal-Mart practically stands by itself in the fierceness of its union-busting policies. It has a history of forcing employees to watch misleading anti-union propaganda, firing managers who don’t stop meetings and closing entire branches when the union gains a foothold. Wal-Mart and Andy Stern come pretty close to sworn enemies. Seeing Stern and the Waltons working together on this is about the best possible illustration of my point that real progress will necessitate making some awkward friendships.

On a separate point, I’m not at all surprised to see Andy Stern out front on this. Stern recently split his SEIU from the old guard unions over a philosophical rift in which Stern’s perspective strikes me as both radical and more pragmatic. Read about it here. One line in particular stands out:

a faction in the AFL-CIO led by Andy Stern, president of the 1.8 million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU), argues for sweeping internal reform. Peculiarly, the argument centers not on social vision, which might rouse legions beyond labor’s dwindling ranks, but on organizational scaffolding. In essence it goes like this. Unions aren’t structured to win. They are too numerous: the 58 national unions should be consolidated into about 15 mega-unions to match megacorporations.They are too general: power depends on density within industrial sectors, and with various unions (from the SEIU to the Steelworkers) competing for, say, health care workers, power is diffuse, hence squandered. They are too tied to the Democratic Party: they should court Republicans, also build progressive alliances.

I think this article shortchanges the import of Stern’s emphasis on expanding union enrollment versus the established unions’ focus on direct political influence. Real influence, his reasoning goes, comes from representing more of America. But I would say that Stern got the better of the argument about forging unexpected alliances.

Finally, I would love to see the right wing boycott Wal-Mart over this. In rural America Wal-Mart has long since quashed the competition. Where else ya gonna go?






28 replies
  1. 1
    les says:

    Interesting, and perhaps hopeful. Unfortunately, this:

    we are the only industrialized nation on earth that puts the price of healthcare on the cost of our products.

    is wrong. Healthcare is always in the price of goods, whether employer funded, tax funded or employee funded. Our problem is a system that’s laughably inefficient and discriminatory, and imposes a far greater burden on those costs than our competitors.

  2. 2
    JoeTx says:

    When CEO’s of Health Insurance companies take home over 1.7 billion dollars in compensation, its time to say, we’ve had enough of these leeches. The cost of health care was never tied to injury lawyers, its the blood suckers in the insurance industry. Hopefully these guys can do something before companies like Ford go out of business trying to fund their healthcare plans…

  3. 3
    MNPundit says:

    “They are too tied to the Democratic Party: they should court Republicans, also build progressive alliances.”

    …and this of course is why I don’t trust Andy Stern. Unless you watch Republicans every single second, they will turn around and fuck over your workers 8 times before anyone notices.

    Re les: So you’re considering government a good?

  4. 4
    Bubblegum Tate says:

    For one, Wal-Mart is the single largest employer in America and a heavy contributor to party politics.

    Yes–and primarily (though not exclusively) a heavy contributer to Republican party politics. To the point where wingnuts often identify shopping at Wal-Mart to be a “conservative” activity (see Julia Gorin’s latest miserable failure of an attempt at comedy, for example–assuming you are able to slog through it). Which is why it’s not that hard to see this on the horizon:

    Finally, I would love to see the right wing boycott Wal-Mart over this.

    And yes, a right-wing boycott of Wal-Mart would be one hell of a funny spectator sport.

  5. 5

    I think that WalMart simply wants what they’ve been doing for years — forcing workers onto public assistance to survive — to become legal, so that they can’t be shamed for it any more.

  6. 6
    Kimmitt says:

    That’s pretty accurate, so we can either use that for good or for evil.

  7. 7
    Zifnab says:

    They are too tied to the Democratic Party: they should court Republicans, also build progressive alliances.

    Dear Andy,

    See: Jack Abramoff.
    Given this evidence, please reconsider your statement to something less dumb.

    That said, he’s got a point. The unions need to stop engaging the Democrats as their first, last, and only open ear. But they need to get involved at the grass roots level. Get in on those Republican Primary campaigns. Start fielding fresh young faces into the party who hold the “low taxes, small government” mentality but still keep friends in the union circles. If no one likes Democrats in a given district, field a few RINOs into the mix.

    Endron, Exxon, and GM knew how to get their hands in both party baskets. Unions need to brighten up and start doing the same thing.

  8. 8
    pharniel says:

    the really funny thing is that Wal-Mart no longer has to care. It’s so large that you can’t get rid of it w/out them doing something massivly illegal and high profile at the same time.
    LIke working orphans to death.
    On camera.
    Maybe.
    Essentially they are huge, and you’ll start to see Wal-Mart’s overal politics go back to the center as long as it’s good for them.
    And yha, the rural right wing Libratarian free market bedwetters trying to boycott wallmart will find out quickly why the free market died an ignoble death in 19-ought-8 or so…because it can be trivially easy to create a monopoly and monopolies are bad.
    In short. Go a head and boycott, and starve…or don’t and pay for something I want for once.
    Yay team.

  9. 9
    Faux News says:

    Isn’t it time for Darrell or scs to chime and and start shrieking “SOCIALIZED MEDICINE = SOCIALISM”!

    This hysterical rant will then be followed by some comment about Hillary loving socialism and hating the free market.

    Then Darrell will compare the health care on Earth to that of health care on Mars and Venus.

  10. 10
    les says:

    MNPundit–I don’t know how generally you meant that–I suppose some gov’t, if run well, is a good. My point is that healthcare has to be paid for, and all the costs of maintaining a society are ultimately added to, and come out of, the costs of the goods the society produces. If you’re asking whether I think gov’t as single payer is the only or best solution to the healthcare problem–no, not necessarily, although it seems to work in some countries. I am of the belief that the current system has massive cost inefficiencies built into it (and comparing US costs to all other developed countries bears that out), primarily related to the insurance infrastructure/overhead ,and that’s what’s important to address, not necessarily the place in the system that we attach the costs. It’s hard to see tying everyone to employer provided, as not all are employed and not all employers are similarly situated; but some kind of all-individual insurance plan is completely ridiculous, so gov’t involvement at some level seems inevitable.

  11. 11
    lard lad says:

    Isn’t it time for Darrell or scs to chime and and start shrieking “SOCIALIZED MEDICINE = SOCIALISM”!

    This hysterical rant will then be followed by some comment about Hillary loving socialism and hating the free market.

    Then Darrell will compare the health care on Earth to that of health care on Mars and Venus.

    And, and, and, and Americans will visit the doctor every other day to rip off the system – just because they can! And you have to wait for months to get your rash looked at in Canada! And French hospitals don’t have ice! Socialism! Horrors! Consternation!

  12. 12

    Strange Bedfellows:

    Anti-union — for its workers — Wal-Mart has joined forces with the Service Employees International Union and other companies to push for universal health care by the year 2012. (Balloon Juice)…

  13. 13
    goy says:

    We HAD “universal health care” once: back when the costs of health care were such that most could be – and were – paid for out-of-pocket. But decades of health care cost manipulation by comprehensive health care insurance providers has caused health care costs to rise at many times the rate of inflation, and now this is no longer possible. Not to mention that billions are now siphoned off to pay for enormous broker/middlemen insurance companies which add nothing to the quality of care.

    What’s worse, health care insurance is now viewed as an entitlement, not a benefit. In MA it is now a statutory entitlement, which is a very dangerous precedent.

    If we weren’t trapped inside the box we keep beating on in trying to solve this problem, the answer would be obvious:

    – Eliminate comprehensive health care insurance plans. Completely. Return those premiums to the employees, direct policy holders and companies who’ve been paying them.

    – Leverage economies of scale for catastrophic plans at the municipal level, NOT at the company level. This is big enough to have group sizes in the tens of thousands, while still small enough to have accountability in plan administration (nationally-administered or even statewide plans would not be as responsive or as accountable).

    – Bring health care costs back into line with other commodites, initially through incentives, subsidies and regulation and, finally, through the same market economics that kept those costs affordable in the ’50s.

    We could do that by 2012.

  14. 14

    […] From Ballon Juice: Wal-Mart, Andy Stern And Healthcare… […]

  15. 15
    Sherard says:

    LOL. While the union and Walmart may be allies on this particular issue, Walmart is not interested, as indicated by their “fierce unionbusting”, in any way, shape, or form, in having their employees represented by any union. In case you’d like to know the general effect of the union, ask Ford and GM how that’s working out for them.

    In case you didn’t notice, unions are going the way of the dodo. Just 12% of the total workforce is in a union, and it declines every single year.

  16. 16
    Zifnab says:

    Shorter Sherard: “My overall viseral contempt for Unions leaves me with nothing intelligent to add to the conversation. Seig Hail Walmart!”

  17. 17
    Tim F. says:

    Methinks that Sherard either didn’t read or didn’t understand my post. Which is to say that water is wet.

  18. 18
    John S. says:

    In case you didn’t notice, unions are going the way of the dodo. Just 12% of the total workforce is in a union, and it declines every single year.

    Tis more the pity. The unfortunate trend helped to expand corporate profits while undermining whatever leverage the American worker had left. Add to the mix states like Florida that are ‘right to work’ (i.e. businesses can do whatever the fuck they want) and it’s amazing that there are any unions left at all.

    Not that any of this bothers a petulant turd like you, Sherard.

  19. 19
    Krista says:

    Wow, Sherard. Way to completely miss the point of the post. Here, let me spell it out for you:

    This is not about WalMart becoming unionized.
    This is about WalMart and other large corporations teaming up with unions in order to push for universal healthcare.

    Or, to bring it down to a level you can understand, it’s comparable to when Professor Xavier and Magneto set aside their differences in order to work together to defeat a common enemy.

  20. 20
    Bubblegum Tate says:

    it’s comparable to when Professor Xavier and Magneto set aside their differences in order to work together to defeat a common enemy.

    So when does Rebecca Romijn show up wearing nothing but body paint?

  21. 21

    Or, to bring it down to a level you can understand, it’s comparable to when Professor Xavier and Magneto set aside their differences in order to work together to defeat a common enemy.

    Actually, to bring it down to Sherard’s level, it’s like Ash Ketchum working side-by-side with Team Rocket.

  22. 22
    Krista says:

    So when does Rebecca Romijn show up wearing nothing but body paint?

    She doesn’t. But Bush does, if that’s any consolation.

  23. 23
    dougf says:

    The days of non-universal, Insurance Directed, Health Care in the US are numbered.

    You can complain all you want — WallMart is right. The fact that they are making common cause with Unions is absolutely irrelevant. Reality is.

    Perhaps you can also touch base with GM which is being driven into Chapter 11 in part because of mounting health care costs,which sooner or later it will default on.

    In the real world, as competitive pressures from outside the US continue to build, the system will be revised.

    I give it less than a decade.

  24. 24
    YellowJournalism says:

    Ew, Krista. Just…ew.

  25. 25

    […] Wal-Mart, Andy Stern And Healthcare […]

  26. 26
    gringo says:

    I keep reading the articles promoting the government run medical care, and I still don’t find any actual reasoning behind it. What is the actual problem you want to solve? What evidence do you have that the government will solve this problem? At what cost to society will the government solve it? Somehow, these questions are never answered. Yes, nearly 10% of Americans don’t have medical insurance. Okay – but this does not mean that the rest of the people, i.e. 90% of the Americans should be forced to switch to a government run medical system. Okay, the costs of medical care are too high. Fine – but what makes you think the government can do it more efficiently than the private sector? If it can – why can’t it do it now? Organize a government run company, make it compeletely voluntary and be funded solely by the customers. It such an enterprise were so effective – it would have been already done by now.

  27. 27
    Tim F. says:

    It such an enterprise were so effective – it would have been already done by now.

    Well for one, you just described Medicaid. It works pretty well, and in fact one resonable route to universal healthcare is to gradually expand the Medicaid income gap and lower the Medicare age gap. There’s nothing wrong with the way that either program works.

    As for why we don’t do exactly what you recommend, look up adverse selection. If you think paying for everybody is unfair imagine having to pay for your own insurance, plus the pool of people too expensive for any private insurer to accept. You would get socked much worse than if the cost was distributed evenly.

  28. 28
    goy says:

    If you think paying for everybody is unfair imagine having to pay for your own insurance, plus the pool of people too expensive for any private insurer to accept. You would get socked much worse than if the cost was distributed evenly.

    With a large enough group – say a municipality of several tens of thousands as opposed to a company with 40 or 50 – this problem is completely solved for catastrophic health care plans. But that doesn’t solve the real problem.

    Everyone keeps focusing on “how can everyone afford insurance that will cover the cost of health care“. We keep talking about “covering the costs” as if there were just no limit to how high they can go, and so that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s become somehow “taboo” to think in terms of forcing health care costs themselves back in line with what people can typically afford without insurance – as we did 50 years ago. Staying trapped in this box virtually guarantees that health care costs will continue to rise at some multiple of inflation. We’ve been watching this happen for decades and any “solution” that doesn’t address this problem only leads to a worse situation down the road.

    This mindset is the primary problem. We’ve become conditioned to think in terms of “affording comprehensive insurance plans” when those have been the cause of the skyrocketing costs. In many cases such plans are now seen as entitlements, which is creeping socialism by another name.

    Eliminate comprehensive plans, go back to direct pay and implement catastrophic plans with large groups, as suggested above, and you solve the problem in a business-friendly way that ensures no one will go broke on health care and no one needs to go without it.

    We could do this in a phased approach over 5-7 years.

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  3. Strange Bedfellows:

    Anti-union — for its workers — Wal-Mart has joined forces with the Service Employees International Union and other companies to push for universal health care by the year 2012. (Balloon Juice)…

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