Friday, April 05, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #102 - Part 6

Outrage of the Week: Wal-Mart will brook no opposition

I had a hard time choosing an outrage this week.

That's because I wanted to - and I may still at some point in the future - but I wanted to talk about CVS and how it's telling its employees - excuse me, its "colleagues" (because, doncha know, we're all equal here) - it's telling its underlings who use the corporate health insurance plan to go to their doctor and have them determine their height, weight, body fat, blood pressure, and other health indicators, then to allow that personal data to go not only to the insurance company but also to yet another company, one that manages benefits for CVS. Let that sort of personal data get spread around even more widely.

Workers who don't take part in this "voluntary" “wellness review” will have to pay an annual $600 penalty.

To paraphrase Arthur Dent, this is obviously some meaning of the word "voluntary" of which I was previously unaware.

What really got me beyond the nonsense about "colleagues" and "voluntary" was that the company brazenly lied about the policy, claiming it's "common." A corporate flunky referred to a study that said that nearly 80% of large employers offered a health assessment and 3/4 of those who do so, offer positive incentives for completion. But a Kaiser study found that while a lot of employers may offer health assessments under their insurance plans, only 18% of employers actually asked their workers to take such an assessment, with only half of those - that is, 9% of the total - penalizing employees who didn't complete it. Nine percent does not constitute "common." CVS lied.

Despite that, which I still may talk about more in the future because of its relation to privacy its connection to Obamacare and yes there is one, my Outrage of the Week is that Wal-Mart has sued a grocery workers union and others, including individuals, who have protested at its Florida stores. That is, Wal-Mart is suing them for protesting the corporation's underpaying, cheating, and exploiting its employees. That, the company says, is "trespassing" and it must, it just must, "protect our customers and associates from further disruptive tactics associated with their continued, illegal trespassing."

Wal-Mart does not have union-represented workers in its US stores, it is and has been throughout its history one of the most bitterly anti-union companies going, it has a corporate policy of paying its workers as little as it can get away with, and none of you should shop there until it changes.

What it's trying to do now is to use the threat of legal action to force its critics just shut up and go away. Those critics include the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, a group of present and former Wal-Mart employees called OUR-Walmart, the group Central Florida Jobs With Justice, and specified individuals associated with those groups. This has nothing to do with "protecting" customers and even less than nothing to do with "protecting" employees. The only thing they are interested in protecting is corporate profits. Period.

Among the horrendous deeds of which protestors are accused in the suit are projecting a video on the side of a store, entering a store to confront a manager, using bullhorns, and - I swear I'm not making this up - carrying signs on sticks.

This suit seems to me to be a variation of what came to be called a SLAPP, or Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. It's a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their opposition. That is, the suers - in this case, Wal-Mart - don't really expect to win the suit. What they want to do is to drain their opponents either financially, emotionally, or better yet both, so the opponents are exhausted and just give up.

They were popular among corporations from the 70s to the 90s, particularly when they were leveled against individuals or "kitchen table" groups that were using regulatory proceedings and hearings to oppose some plan of some corporation. The price for dropping such suits - which were patently frivolous, as they often claimed that by criticizing the company's proposal you were by definition "defaming it" and "causing it to suffer financial loss" - the price for dropping the suits was usually dropping out of the regulatory process and letting the company's proposal proceed unopposed. These suits lost a lot of their luster when their targets who were in a position to fight them began to file what became known as SLAPP-backs, where the roles were switched and the corporation went from plaintiff to defendant.

Still, they do continue to happen, and while this is not a typical example, as it does not demand damages - at least not now - it does seem to me to have the same goal: Force your opponents to just shut up and go away.

By the way, I keep wondering why this suit was filed in Florida. Wal-Mart stores across the country have been targeted. Why Florida? Do they think the courts are more sympathetic to the company there? I don't know. I wonder, but I don't know.

I do know this: Don't shop at Wal-Mart.


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