Wal-Mart's Feeble Effort to Airbrush Its Image

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Wal-Mart's Feeble Effort to Airbrush Its Image

In a speech yesterday in Los Angeles, Wal-Mart CEO H. Lee Scott argued that the mega-retailer gets a bad rap. Thanks to Slate's Timothy Noah, we can add something else to Wal-Mart's rap: distortion of reality.

Noah cites arguments from Scott's speech and then promptly exposes the quicksand they are based upon. For example:
SCOTT: "Wal-Mart's average wage is around $10 an hour, nearly double the federal minimum wage."

Noah writes: "... the relevant number isn't the average, which would be skewed upwards by the large salaries of relatively few highly-paid company executives — Scott, for example, receives, by one reckoning, 897 times the pay of the average Wal-Mart worker — but the median. In the December 16 New York Review of Books, (the Century Foundation's) Simon Head ... stated, 'the average pay of a sales clerk at Wal-Mart was $8.50 an hour, or about $14,000 a year, $1,000 below the government's definition of the poverty level for a family of three.' "

SCOTT: "Few people realize that about 74 percent of Wal-Mart hourly store associates work full-time, compared to 20 to 40 percent at comparable retailers."

Noah writes: "Yes, but what exactly is a 'full-time worker'? Typically, full-time is defined as 40 hours a week or more. At Wal-Mart, it's defined as 34 hours a week. So of course Wal-Mart has more "full-time" workers. Fewer hours worked, I need hardly point out, means that Wal-Mart's "full-time" employees are less likely than employees elsewhere to afford premiums for any health insurance they're offered ..."
Wal-Mart's P.R. machine is in full swing, as Noah observed with these amusing remarks:
Wal-Mart took the trouble to send this speech out to writers "who are in a position to influence a lot of others," according to a cover e-mail I received from Mona Williams, Wal-Mart's vice president for corporate communications. I took Williams's email as a plea to expose the dishonesty in Scott's remarks (Stop us before we kill again!) disguised as a plea to give Scott's remarks a fair hearing.

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