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Wal-Mart supports key provisions of the Democratic health care reform plan. Yep, the largest retailer in rural America is backing parts of the Obama package. Nelson Lichtenstein noted in the L.A. Times recently that before the election, Wal-Mart warned its employees that if Democrats won the White House, the company would face a “disruptive unionization campaign.” Now, the historian writes, the rural-based retailer supports a “key, controversial plank in the health insurance reform plan.” 

Wal-Mart is in favor of “pay or play,” the provision that would require large firms to either provide their workers with health insurance or to pay as much as $750 an employee to the government for coverage. This is a provision favored by some labor unions and abhorred by the National Retail Federal, which reported that it was “astonished” at Wal-Mart’s “catastrophic” decision to support the mandate.

Lichetenstein says that Wal-Mart’s decision to join Democrats and unions in supporting some parts of the reform bill was a calculated effort to win back some customers through a more friendly kind of corporate citizenship. The company has been criticized for paying low wages and offering few benefits, and supporting health insurance for its workers may garner some good press, according to the history professor. Lichtenstein also says the employee mandate may be cheaper in the long run for Wal-Mart than other plans floating around Congress.

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