Earlier this week, Wal-Mart said it would support employer-mandated healthcare, an idea shared by President Barack Obama. The announcement is a stark departure from the retail giant's conservative history of employee benefits that inspired groups such as Wal-Mart Watch.
The move, very simply, is game-changing for the business community, which traditionally does not support employer mandates, but even more so, it's a game-changer for Wal-Mart's corporate reputation.
Wal-Mart, the nation's largest private employer, is reiterating to its employees that they are valued, both for their work and for keeping the company economically viable during a recession. More than half of the company's employees receive health benefits through Wal-Mart.
By lending a voice to the healthcare debate, Wal-Mart is ensuring that its opinions and interests are heard, while also putting it into an active leadership position for future debate, rather than simply working quietly on the sidelines.
The retailer also smartly partnered with the massive Service Employees International Union (SEIU) on a letter, which signaled to the Democratic Congress and President that it had key union support. In that letter, signed by Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke, SEIU president Andrew Stern, and the Center for American Progress, the company stated that it agrees with an employer mandate, like Obama, but does not support any directive that would “create barriers to hiring entry-level employees.”
Beyond the boost to its image, there's no doubt that Wal-Mart made this move to protect its business interests, including clamping down on skyrocketing healthcare costs that are threatening small and large businesses alike. But even with the company's self-interests at heart – a mandate would require Wal-Mart competitors like Target to provide healthcare at the same rate to its employees – Wal-Mart is taking an active role in the debate, which is where solutions are made and change achieved.