Wal-Mart steps up PR offensive, supports minimum wage hike

Just a day after unveiling a new "low cost" health insurance plan for its employees (which includes, critics note, a $1,000 deductible), Arkansas-based Wal-Mart came out with another startling revelation, noted in today's Wall Street Journal news roundup via Arkansas Daily Blog: Taking on critics of its treatment of employees while acknowledging the needs of working-class customers, Wal-Mart Stores Chief Executive Lee Scott, called on Congress to consider raising the minimum wage. In a speech to Wal-Mart directors and executives, Mr. Scott unveiled a series of initiatives designed to present a kinder, gentler face for the world's biggest retailer, which has come under stepped-up criticism for everything from its wages and benefits to its impact on small businesses, The Wall Street Journal notes. But the proposal to lift minimum wage "is particularly likely to raise eyebrows," the Journal says. Though Wal-Mart pays above the current $5.15 an hour minimum wage -- the average hourly wage among its 1.3 million U.S. workers is just under $10 an hour -- some of its smaller competitors don't pay as much. As a result, a boost in the minimum wage could pressure the profitability of Wal-Mart competitors, the paper says.Ah, the dilemma of the corporate class -- when is squeezing workers dry not such a great idea, since it means they can no longer buy your stuff? This basic contradiction of our economy has been delayed by "the plastic safety net" -- i.e., working families going into billions of dollars of debt to make up for low wages and economic insecurity. But with the bankruptcy bill kicking in, ringing up the credit cards isn't such a hot option for ordinary families, either.So you might call this enlightened self-interest on Wal-Mart's part: throw a little more to workers, and maybe they'll step up their spending this holiday season.The announcement drew a couple responses at the Arkansas Daily Blog: Wow does Wal-Mart have this game figured out or what? Mark your prices so low that your competitors MUST pay their employees minimum wage to compete and then push for an increase in minimum wage so that you further their demise. What a fool-proof plan!And: Lee Scott will be believed when supporters of raising the minimum wage in Arkansas can collect signatures for the ballot inititive outside WalMart stores without being arested for criminal trespass.UPDATE: Somehow I missed this -- the company has also announced it's going green: Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has unveiled an environmental plan to boost energy efficiency, cut down on waste and reduce greenhouse gases tied to global warming as part of a wider effort to address issues where it has been pummeled by critics. Wal-Mart Chief Executive Lee Scott said the world's largest retailer wants to be a "good steward for the environment" and ultimately use only renewable energy sources and produce zero waste.Wow -- this is a full-court press.