New Orleans I stand second to no one as a critic of Walmart’s employee and labor relations policies, but it’s hard for me to join the boo-bird chorus about the company’s latest Scrooge-like action in dropping part-time workers averaging less than 30 hours per week. The company just may have done most of them a favor given the Affordable Care Act rules.
I’ve been on this soapbox before, so let me try to climb up again without falling. Under the rules, if there is an employer provided plan, a worker can still go to the state or federal based marketplace to buy insurance, but they are barred from receiving subsidies to pay for the insurance or cost sharing to help defray the cost of co-pays and deductibles. Given the real wages of Walmart workers, as opposed to the average wage the company claims it pays workers, many of these part-time workers, especially if they are relying on Walmart as their sole employer, would be getting health insurance at little or no cost through the marketplace. The odds would also be very, very good that whatever they would be paying would be less than the cost of the Walmart plan on offer were they still allowed in. Furthermore, I would bet real money, the plan would more likely have lower deductibles as well. Walmart may not have meant to do so, but it may have done these part-time workers a big, big favor.
I say they “may not have meant to do so,” because in their comments on their actions they have the big crying towel on about having spent a half-billion more on health coverage costs last year because of the Affordable Care Act, but this statement is disingenuous as well, and is linked back to the same rule. The coverage mandate meant that Walmart workers almost had to use the company’s health insurance policy, no matter how lousy, in 2014, simply because the Affordable Care Act required company policies to be the first choice for workers if there was a qualified plan in place. Many workers for the USA’s largest private sector employer, probably just sucked it up and signed up for the company’s policies not wanting to shop at the marketplace or feeling that it was inaccessible given the well documented problems with the website at the opening bell and earlier in the year. Walmart was therefore forced to have to pay its portion of their company policy, which most of their workers had avoided in the past, therefore leading to it having to actually spend some more money on worker healthcare, rather than just pretending that the workers were covered, while hundreds of thousands turned up their noses and took a chance on their own health.
The more you read about the 30,000 workers Walmart dropped, amounting to 5% of its 600,000 worker part-time workforce and a little less than half of its 1.3 million workers, it is even hard to tell if these figures are accurate. Press reports are clear that in 2011 they had already dropped from any coverage all workers averaging less than 24 hours of work weekly, so this new action would have impacted the slice of the part-time workforce averaging more than 24 hours and less than 30 hours. Are these numbers credible? Who knows really? I’m only leaning their way because I can’t believe they would make themselves look worse than they already are.
The head of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Union called Walmart’s move “shameful.” Really, it’s just other day at the office in Bentonville, and possibly this excision of 30,000 workers may have been a lot less shameful than what they are doing to hundreds of thousands of workers with their substandard, but technically, qualified company plan every day.