WASHINGTON – Executives from Wal-Mart (WMT) and three other major U.S. employers on Wednesday joined hands with union leaders in setting a goal of providing "quality, affordable" health care for millions of workers by 2012.
Joining Wal-Mart Stores Inc. CEO Lee Scott and Service Employees International Union leader Andrew Stern at a Washington press conference were top executives from Intel Corp., AT&T Inc. (T) and Kelly Services Inc., a temporary staffing agency. However, the initiative left Wal-Mart's two leading union critics divided.
The partnership of business and union leaders laid out four main goals, including universal health-care coverage for "every person in America" and raising "the value it (America) receives for every health-care dollar" spent.
"Government alone won't and can't solve this crisis," Scott said. "By following this campaign's common sense principles, we believe America can have high quality, affordable and accessible health care by 2012."
The SEIU funds campaign group Wal-Mart Watch, which as recently as last month said Wal-Mart's health plans were a raw deal for employees. But Stern said he joined Wal-Mart and the other employers because America's health care system requires fundamental change.
"It's time to admit the employer-based health care system is dead," Stern said.
Despite praise from SEIU and Communications Workers of America leaders who called for universal health care for every American within five years, Paul Blank, the campaign director for WakeUpWalMart.com, gave only tepid support for the plan in a prepared statement.
"If Wal-Mart is truly serious," Blank said, "we challenge the company to provide universal health care to all of its uninsured employees and their families today." Blank's group is funded by the United Food and Commercial Workers, which did not participate in Wednesday's press conference.
The business and union leaders, in forming a coalition dubbed "Better Health Care Together," pledged to convene a national summit by the end of May to recruit other leaders from business, labor, government and non-profits.
In late morning trading, shares of Wal-Mart fell 3 cents to $48.55, while shares of AT&T slid 30 cents to $37.21, both on the New York Stock Exchange. On the Nasdaq Stock Market, shares of Intel gained 22 cents to $21.53, while those of Kelly Services declined 9 cents to $30.91.