Wal-Mart: Always Low Morals—Always

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“Greed is good”—Gordon Gecko, in “Wall Street”

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“All the workers you’ve exploited and cheated cry out for judgment. The groans of the workers you used and abused are a roar in the ears of the Master Avenger”—James 5:4, The Message Bible

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I’M NO SAINT, AND SOME WHO know me best could provide plenty of confirming testimony. But despite my flaws and failings, I still have the power of choice God gave me from Day One. I can still choose which Leader to follow in the ongoing war between Christ and Satan. I can choose which side of the line between them on which I’ll stand.

And right now, to stand on what I’m convinced is the right side of that line, I’m choosing no longer ever again—for as long as my heart continues beating—to darken the door of Wal-Mart.

By now, you’ve undoubtedly heard the tragic recent story of 52-year-old Debbie Shank (see video clip above), the brain-damaged woman from Jackson, Missouri, who once worked stocking shelves at Wal-Mart to help care for her three sons.

When a semi truck broadsided her mini-van in May of 2000, Debbie’s brain took the brunt of the impact. Fortunately, Debbie’s Wal-Mart health insurance paid out about $470,000 for her care. Later, she was awarded a $900,000 settlement from the trucking company. After legal fees, about $417,000 of that (a percentage that deserves a blogpost all its own!) went into a trust for Debbie’s long-term care.

Unfortunately, neither Debbie nor her husband Jim had noticed a tiny fine-print clause in Wal-Mart’s health plan paperwork, that if Debbie were to settle with a third party for damages, Wal-Mart then had the right to recoup all money it spent on her care.

So Wal-Mart notified the Shanks that they wanted their money back. The couple appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. A few days ago, the Court—reinforcing its well-deserved reputation of coddling corporations at the expense of individual citizens—refused to hear the Shanks’ final appeal. That means Wal-Mart can now collect every penny left in the fund.

And the company has notified the Shanks that they intend to do just that—and that within days, they will drain the first $200,000 from the trust fund, which is now down to $277,000. That will leave the trust fund nearly $200,000 short of having enough to repay Wal-Mart. And of course, nothing will then remain for Debbie’s care.

Meanwhile, Jim is working two jobs to care for her, and since he can’t be at home enough, Debbie is in a nursing home. Jim even legally divorced Debbie recently because by doing so, she might get more in Medicaid.

Compounding the Shanks’ tragedy, their 18-year-old son Jeremy was recently killed while serving in Iraq. But since Debbie’s short-term memory was virtually destroyed in the accident, each time she asks about Jeremy and is told of his death, it’s as if she’s hearing it again for the first time.

Several days of public outrage were met with silence from Wal-Mart, until finally, they released a statement that said: “This is a very sad case and we understand that people will naturally have an emotional and sympathetic reaction [Though this sympathy apparently does not extend to Wal-Mart’s executives]. While the Shank case involves a tragic situation, the reality is that the health plan is required to protect its assets so that it can pay the future claims of other associates and their family members.”

Many legal experts contest Wal-Mart’s assertion that recovering funds is “required.” Wal-Mart clearly has the legal right—though not the legal compulsion—to do so. But is what’s legally right the only consideration here? Should not even big corporations also consider what is morally right?

“I will be a swift witness,” God says, “against . . . those who exploit wage earners” Malachi 3:5. Not only is Wal-Mart infamous for padding their bottom-line profits on the backs of its underpaid employees, it now in the Shanks’ case shows that even when it could do the morally right thing, it prefers to hide behind the letter of the law—the spirit of the law be hanged—in order to maximize its profits.

And this profit worship produces other evils, such as the wholesale export of American manufacturing jobs to places such as China, where exploited laborers turn out toxic toys and other products to sell in American Wal-Marts.

This, from a business with 2007 revenues of $351 billion. From a business that can’t find $470,000 for a woman who, in good faith, signed their health plan, never dreaming that the smallest print would take away all that the large print offered. From a business that earns $470,000 in revenue every 38 seconds and whose CEO, Lee Scott, takes home more than $470,000 every week.

In December, the website Wal-Mart Watch conducted an online fundraiser for the Shank family and appealed to the Wal-Mart Foundation, the Wal-Mart Employee Fund, and the Walton Foundation to match the donations raised. But Wal-Mart didn’t care enough even to respond.

Wal-Mart won’t go under without my patronage. That isn’t the intent of my choice to boycott them permanently. For me, it’s a matter of principle. A matter of which side of the line on which I’ll stand. A matter of choosing not to fund with one additional nickel an empire that so clearly demonstrates that it puts profits consistently above people and that embraces the letter of the law while trashing its spirit.

Rather than buy my food at Wal-Mart from here forward, I’ll use Smith’s (my local Kroger subsidiary). For other purchases, perhaps Target will be my new default haunt, supplemented by such places as the dollar stores, Big Lots, Costco, and—as a last and desperate resort—K Mart.

I’m not suggesting that anyone else join me in my decision—though from what I’ve read, I know that tens of thousands already have. You may see this entire sad episode differently. That is your right. I have no desire to persuade you otherwise. But we each have choices to make in life—times when we encounter an opportunity to stand on one side of the line or the other.

The tagline of my blog is “A few words pro-God.” As often as God will strengthen my chooser—and when to me the choice seems this clear—I want to stand on the “pro-God” side of the cosmic war.

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Amen! Bless you, brother, for your principled stand! My family and I stopped shopping at Walmart nearly three years ago after a similar case which prompted Robert Greenwald documentary, “Walmart: The High Cost of Low Price”
    http://www.walmartmovie.com/

    This is a horrific story!

    Reply

  2. Thanks much, Ryan. I highly recommend that anyone similarly concerned about the people-destroying greed of the world’s largest corporation click on the link you provided above.

    Till Christ returns, we’ll always have greed and oppression and injustice. But even if we can’t eliminate it, we can certainly take a stand and speak out against it.

    Reply

  3. Posted by dave griffith on April 3, 2008 at 9:30 pm

    I agree with you.

    If there is any choice I avoid WalMart at any cost.

    dave

    Reply

  4. Thanks, Dave.

    Most towns have alternatives, and I’ve been rediscovering some of them.

    Target’s prices are pretty much competitive…and where but Costco can you buy a 50-pound sack of carrots or a gallon jug of shampoo?

    Reply

  5. Posted by T Briscoe on September 13, 2008 at 8:24 pm

    God bless Jim and Debbie Shank. I pray for them.

    The problem everyone ignores that the Shanks collected twice for the same medical bills. WalMart paid for those costs and the Shanks collected from the trucking company for bills already paid.
    I agree it is heart-wrenching, but no one should collect twice for the same costs.

    If my neighbor knocks a ball into my pane glass window and I collect the insurance on it for repairs, I should not be able to collect from my neighbor as well. I would be getting paid twice for the window. My insurance should be able to recoup the loss from him, not me.

    Can you now see the reasoning why WalMart is able to collect those costs the Shanks were paid?

    Reply

  6. As noted in this months-old item, Wal-Mart finally yielded to public outrage and chose not to pursue recovering funds from the Shanks. So the point is now moot.

    However, that “no one should collect twice for the same costs” is a personal opinion and is not a universal legal fact. Some people carry multiple health insurance policies that do not bar redundant payments, for example, paying beyond what the primary policy covers.

    What the Shanks won from the trucking company was barely half of the award, after the attorneys helped themselves to the other half. And that amount, being less than what Wal-Mart’s insurance had already paid, left the Shanks being pressured by Wal-Mart to repay everything they had received from the truck company, PLUS another $50,000 or so.

    It could also be argued that the Shanks in no way collected twice, since Wal-Mart’s insurance had paid for their initial medical bills, up to the insurance limit.

    The trucking award, on the other hand, was set aside in a fund for long-term future care only, beyond the acute care Debbie Shank first received.

    Anyone who so cares to do so can stand with Wal-Mart and make the case for its LEGAL right to take the position it initially did. But big corporations that care so plainly little for what is MORALLY right, lose in the long run.

    Reply

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