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We have some more comments on the Walmart decision to eliminate health care coverage for a segment of its part-time employee base.

MNB reader Glenn Cantor wrote:

As I travel to retail stores throughout the country, I see that having motivated and happy store employees is critical to the shopper perception of the store experience.  Is shopping in that store pleasant and enjoyable, or is it a troublesome chore?  Walmart’s operating structure makes it prohibitive to continue to offer health insurance to part time employees, especially since these employees may now get coverage through “Obamacare.”  It puts them in a bind, however, because many of the faces that their shoppers see will now be less helpful and not as devoted to unsurpassed customer service. 
 
Does the value of low prices surpass that of providing a good shopping experience?  Not when other retailers can provide equally low prices and a pleasant store, ex. Kroger, Costco.  The senior managers at Walmart making the decision need to consider the intangible, difficult to measure impact on customer service when calculating the cost of providing health insurance to part time employees.  They need to realize that many of their front-line, part-time employees openly complain while working.  What impression does this give and how does this affect long-term shopping habits?


Another MNB reader agreed:

I cannot understand an industry that is facing the nuclear force of on line shopping, and their response is to devalue their ONLY point of difference - personal customer service.  This is more than a race to the bottom, it's suicidal!  Aaaarghhhh!!!

I agree with both these emails.

But not everybody does. One MNB reader wrote:

Businesses do not exist to pay taxes and provide healthcare. Once everyone understands the definition of a business you would better understand how laws and taxes affect jobs. We have seen millions of jobs going overseas because of economic gains for the business. We benefit from a lower cost of goods from these moves too as a consumer. A business is as an enterprise to make money. What is the definition of obscene profit? Profit pays for everything. Profit comes from a robust economy. Cost control is a fundamental practice of a vibrant business. Make laws and tax that lowers costs businesses will follow. Make laws and taxes that raise business costs and the businesses will move the opposite direction. It’s reality. I want business to be profitable!  Vibrant businesses employ, pay taxes and it provide benefits for all… If you expect the government to pay for everything in reality you are saying raise everyone’s taxes. My father always told me… Be careful what you ask for and never believe you get something for nothing… Sage advice more so today that when he told me this 40+ years ago… Wal-mart is reacting to market conditions like any other business must.

I have no problem with an efficient and effective national system in which everybody has healthcare coverage. I do have a problem with folks who argue against national health care, but also say that businesses ought not provide such benefits in their quest to be more profitable, since this inevitably will mean that only the highest-earning folks will be able to afford decent health coverage.

The fact is that companies have traditionally provided health care coverage as an employee benefit … the idea being that sustaining salaries and strong benefits result in a competent and engaged workforce, which then creates a business that is … wait for it! … profitable.

Somehow, this seems to have been lost in the national discussion. The quest for profits has become too much about cutting, and not enough about creating value for customers, shareholders and, yes, even employees.

I got a particularly ugly email yesterday from someone suggesting that Walmart's employees are slow and unmotivated and therefore don't deserve healthcare benefits (unlike employees at places like Costco, Starbucks and The Container Store). But it seems to me at least possible that companies get the employees they deserve … and that companies treating employees as if they are a cost, not an asset, usually will get employees who behave in exactly that way.
KC's View: