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    Wal-Mart and UFCW Parry Over Health Care

    PHOENIX -- The latest chapter in the long-running clash between the world's largest retailer and the largest retail workers' labor union unfolded yesterday at a press conference here, centering on the retailer's health care plan and related public assistance issues.

    PHOENIX -- The latest chapter in the long-running clash between the world's largest retailer and the largest retail workers' labor union unfolded yesterday at a press conference here, centering on the retailer's health care plan and related public assistance issues.

    As part of an effort by "Wake-Up Wal-Mart," which describes itself as a grassroots coalition comprised of business leaders, community groups and activists, speakers at the news conference aiming to "Make Wal-Mart Care About Health Care" decried the retailer's health care policies as a direct cost to taxpayers at both the state and federal levels.

    A bill for the "Wal-Mart Health Care Tax" was a key element of the press event, at which a 3'x6' replica of a "Wal-Mart bill" displayed the alleged dollar costs state taxpayers pay for providing health care for Wal-Mart's workers. Speakers also called for legislative action at the state level, "to ensure that wealthy, multi-billion dollar corporations, like Wal-Mart, stop shifting their health care costs on to taxpayers."

    Responding to the allegations, M. Susan Chambers, e.v.p. of benefits administration at the Bentonville, Ark.-based chain, called the press conference, however, "a publicity stunt by 'Wake-Up Wal-Mart,' which is funded entirely by the UFCW, and [is] designed to further their own narrow self-interests."

    Chambers added, "Some of our critics are open-minded people who are genuinely concerned about issues and want to make the world a better place. We listen and learn and try to work with them toward common goals."

    "The health care issue is much broader than Wal-Mart. Our nation -- including large and small employers -- faces a health care crisis," Chambers continued. "Maliciously targeting one company doesn't address this issue. It doesn't provide one person with insurance or take one person off the list of America's uninsured. It doesn't offer solutions."

    Chambers went on to discuss Wal-Mart's health care plan, among which entitles associates to visit the best medical facilities and select from eight different options while taking some, "160,000 people off the list of America's uninsured."

    More sparks are likely to fly later this week, as Wal-Mart management, shareholders, and detractors converge on Northwest Arkansas for the mega-chain's annual meeting.

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