- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 13, 2005

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, and its chief executive officer, Lee Scott, went on the offensive yesterday against critics of its employment policies and the effect its stores have on communities where they are located.

The company took out more than 100 full-page newspaper ads across the country, outlining the wages and benefits it pays its employees and the good the Bentonville-based company says it brings to communities.

Mr. Scott said he wants Wal-Mart to overcome its reputation as a company that does not pay well and has minimal full-time workers.

“We want to get those myths off the table, set the record straight,” Mr. Scott said in a phone interview from New York City where he was doing a round of press interviews yesterday.

Wal-Mart has been the target of lawsuits accusing the company of bias against women and not paying employees for all the hours they work. Wal-Mart has vigorously fought the court actions.

The ad says the company’s average pay is nearly twice the minimum wage, that 74 percent of its hourly workers are full time and that Wal-Mart offers health and life insurance, company stock and a 401(k) retirement plan. Wal-Mart has more than 1 million domestic employees.

“We’re taking this time to say, ‘Hold on a minute, we have good jobs,’” Mr. Scott said.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Mona Williams would not say how much the company spent on the advertising. The Washington Times, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal were among the papers in which Wal-Mart paid for the full-page ads.

The company has also been criticized by the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which continues to try to organize Wal-Mart workers. Greg Denier, a union spokesman, accused Wal-Mart of being deceptive with the new campaign.

“Obviously, it is a defensive reaction to growing community, consumer and worker concern about the impact of Wal-Mart,” Mr. Denier said. “The advertising campaign is designed to cover the reality of their operations, and they are doing it in a typically Wal-Mart deceptive way.”

Mr. Denier said the company’s health insurance is too expensive considering what its employees are paid, and said the insurance does not provide adequate coverage for non-catastrophic illness.

Wal-Mart failed in an attempt to put a store in Inglewood, Calif., where the retailer lost a referendum last year. The company was criticized as an unwanted source of traffic and low-paying jobs.

“I thought it was ridiculous,” Mr. Scott said of the attention drawn by the Inglewood failure. “We had a record number of stores open this past year … [and] this year we will open a record number of stores.”

Mr. Scott said no one source of criticism prompted the new offensive.

“I liken it to being nibbled to death by guppies,” Mr. Scott said.

Mr. Denier said Wal-Mart does not create jobs in a community, but shifts them from other employers to Wal-Mart. The UFCW says Wal-Mart often does not provide the pay and benefits of competitors it puts out of business.

Mr. Scott noted that new Wal-Mart stores attract other storefronts, saying many businesses want to be near the high-traffic retailer.

The company’s Thanksgiving weekend sales failed to meet expectations, and Mr. Scott said that prompted Wal-Mart to become more aggressive in merchandising and the way it gets its message across.

But Mr. Scott said he does not dismiss concerns that people express when Wal-Mart wants to open a new store.

“I think there’s lots of questions when Wal-Mart comes to a town that need to be answered. Not all of those questions are frivolous,” he said.

Mr. Scott said he planned meetings with a variety of groups not associated with government to help explain Wal-Mart’s employment practices, environment-related policies and how it deals with its suppliers. He would not name the organizations, saying he did not want the groups to feel they were being used to garner press attention.

“We touch so many lives … there is almost not a [nongovernmental organization] that does not have an interest in what we as a company are doing,” Mr. Scott said.

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