Transcript: Thom Hartmann & Joseph Hansen: UFCW sounds the alarm...Walmart screws part & full-time works w/healthcare rollbacks... October 24, 2011

Thom Hartmann: Welcome back to the Thom Hartmann program, the place where we are willing to say “is Wal-Mart a person?" And we are willing to say, “No! Not a chance!" Speaking of which, Joseph Hansen is with us. He is the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, UFCW, international union. The website,, of course. And Joseph, welcome to the program.

Joseph Hansen: Thank you very much Thom, I'm glad to be on.

Thom Hartmann: Tell us what's going on with Wal-Mart.

Joseph Hansen: Well it's kind of an amazing story. The richest biggest corporation in the world unleashes its attack on its own workers and employees who I think are defenseless on this deal. And it completely goes against the grain of what's going on in this country. One section of our economy that has been fairly stable and growing, although it's in the bottom of the scale has been the service economy and retail food. And there's, and retail period. And there's been millions of workers in that section. And then what Wal-Mart just did last week to take away the healthcare from future Wal-Mart employees that are part time which is the majority of their workers, and cut back, I think it's unconscionable.

Thom Hartmann: Well let's just recap this for people who don't know what we're talking about.

Joseph Hansen: Pardon?

Thom Hartmann: Let's recap this, Joseph, for people who don't know what we're talking about. Wal-Mart, you started out by saying you know Wal-Mart's further screwing their workers basically, my language not yours. And I think most people think that Wal-Mart workers already were the most screwed in America. But the fact of the matter is that Wal-Mart was offering some small measure, albeit it was too costly for many of their workers to take, but a small measure of employee benefit. Do I have that right?

Joseph Hansen: Yeah. If they could afford to take it and then if they could afford to pay the deductibles on top of it. So it was something but damn little.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah it was a high deductible, health insurance, it was basically a catastrophic illness health insurance policy that if you got you know cancer or something and you could afford to pay the first x tens of thousands or thousands or whatever it is, then it covered you. And you had to pay for it out of your paycheck. And a lot of people actually were taking jobs at Wal-Mart just to get that policy because there was no other way to get that kind of policy. And now Wal-Mart has changed their policy on the policy. So explain that to us.

Joseph Hansen: Well it's hard to explain. I really can't understand it myself. This is a company that is very profitable, they get profits from all around the world, and then to take it away from people who can afford to lose it the least, it just makes no sense at all. And it goes against the grain of what's going on in this country. There was a national debate for years about trying to change our healthcare system, which ended up with a healthcare act, that I would be the first to admit that it's flawed but it does go toward coverage towards the majority of people and the people that can't afford it. And here's the biggest corporation just setting a very poor example and I can't explain it, Thom. It just makes no good sense. Except if it's just pure greed. You know if the Walton family wants to take more money and put it in their pocket at the expense of their own workers, that's the only explanation I can come up with.

Thom Hartmann: So in essence what they're saying, what the Wal-Mart corporation is saying to their employees, because they typically do hire people for 30 or 35 hours or less wherever they hire them, depending on the state, because that way they consider them part time employees and part time employees don't automatically qualify for benefits in those states where it's required that if you give benefits to any full time employees you have to give it to all your full time employees. So first of all they've got all these part time people who are working 30 hours a week. And those people used to be eligible to buy into that health insurance plan even though it might cut, you know consume a large chunk of their paycheck. What they're saying now is that future employees will not be able to buy into that health insurance plan? Do I have that right?

Joseph Hansen: Well what they're doing is, the way I understand it, from their own release, is that any new employees who work less than 24 hours a week will not be able to get health insurance. And that's completely in their control. You know it's very easy for Wal-Mart to schedule you 23 and a half hours and then you really are screwed and then…

Thom Hartmann: Yep. So that's going to become the new normal at Wal-Mart, probably is 23 and 1/2 hours.

Joseph Hansen: Unfortunately it's pretty close to the new normal right now. It's hard for Wal-Mart workers and we have contact with thousands and thousands in our Wal-Mart campaign and we hear stories right from the people that work at Wal-Mart and it's very rare to find people that are getting more than 30 hours and it's completely in the management's control to keep them under there so then they won't have any ability to get health insurance.

Thom Hartmann: Wow. Wow.

Joseph Hansen: You look to big corporations to set a positive example.

Thom Hartmann: Well I was going to take it to that. We're talking with Joseph Hansen, the president of the UFCW, the United Food and commercial Workers. Is this Wal-Mart leading the new normal and they will be followed by the McDonalds and the Burger Kings and the Yummy Foods and you know all those other, all these other retailers and for that matter the product retailers, Toys 'R Us and what not. Or are they following others who have already blazed this path to the bottom?

Joseph Hansen: Well they're so big it's hard to believe that they wont' have an impact on the other competitors. Our union, UFCW, represents hundreds of thousands of part time workers and we're proud of the fact that we do negotiate healthcare with decent sized companies. Big companies. Safeway, Kroger company, companies through all of California all the way across the country. Super Value and other big corporations and small ones. And, you know, and the companies understand they have a moral consideration for their own employees which apparently is missing in the whole Wal-Mart makeup.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah. Well things have really changed in America. You know I remember 20, 30, 40, well 30 years ago anyway, when a company would lay off people or when a company would start cutting back on benefits to people, everybody would start getting worried. You know, there'd be stories in the business press about it, is this company in trouble, is this company going out of business. Has the management gone insane. And now when companies start doing that their stock price goes up.

Joseph Hansen: Yeah. Well I think that leads to even a bigger question and that's why you're seeing what you're seeing with the Occupy Wal-mart, or occupy Wall Street. It could be Occupy Wal-Mart.

Thom Hartmann: It could be.

Joseph Hansen: Quite frankly there is a frustration and a concern going in this country that this is not right. That we cannot keep taking advantage of people on the lower end of the spectrum and putting it all in the pockets of the top 1%. We're the other 99%.

Thom Hartmann: There you go. Very, very well said. Joseph Hansen, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Thank you.

Joseph Hansen: Thank you very much, Thom.

Transcribed by Suzanne Roberts, Portland Psychology Clinic.

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