Nickled and Dimed

PiPress' Northwest apology unintentionally shows why you should care about its mechanics

There's a lengthy story in today's Pioneer Press contending that there may not be much economic fallout in the event Northwest Airline's mechanics strike. Even if planes are grounded, the story says, Minnesota commerce will remain robust.

We beg to differ. Perhaps the Twins will still get to their away games, and Best Buy's corporate managers will be able to visit the new store in Pocatello, but there is real damage being done to the state's economy. To wit: Good, salaried jobs with benefits are being sent overseas and to other domestic markets where the race to the bottom among temp workers and other desperate types may save some pennies. (We say may because there are signs that it's pennywise and pound-foolish, but let's not digress.) Thousands of taxpayers and parents are about to be unemployed. How is that not an economic problem?

Perhaps the most telling line in the PiPress account is this:

Northwest is no longer among the state's top 10 employers, according to The Business Journal. It dropped from No. 7 in 2003 to No. 11 last year. Wal-Mart Stores now employs more Minnesotans than Northwest. So does Wells Fargo Bank.

Would that be the same Wal-Mart whose employees--and whose employees' children--regularly clog the rolls of state health care programs? Whose uninsured workers are costing taxpayers so much that a number of states--most famously California--have passed or are considering legislation to force Wal-Mart to provide affordable benefits? Yep, that Wal-Mart.

The United Food and Commercial Workers' calculation of some of the costs Wal-Mart shifts to taxpayers follows. Consider it, and then ask yourself: Will this strike really have no economic ramifications?

More than 60 percent of Wal-Mart employees--600,000 people--are forced to get health insurance coverage from the government or through spouses’ plans—or live without any health insurance. Wal-Mart shifts the cost of health insurance to taxpayers and other employers, driving up the health costs for all of us. Recent reports show that Wal-Mart tops the list of companies in many states whose employees and/or their children rely on taxpayers to foot the bill for health care:

In Alabama, Wal-Mart employees with children on Medicaid cost the state between $5.8 million and $8.2 million to cover 3,864 children.

Wal-Mart workers in California rely on the state taxpayers for about $32 million annually in health-related services.

In Tennessee, almost 10,000 Wal-Mart employees are on the state’s expanded Medicaid program.

In Georgia, over 10,261 children of Wal-Mart employees are enrolled in the state’s PeachCare program for health insurance in families meeting federal poverty criteria.

When other companies get tired of paying the bill for Wal-Mart, they drop or reduce health care benefits for their employees.

There are more than 40 million uninsured working families. The more Wal-Mart grows, so do the number of the uninsured.

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