12.19.2008

victory for debbie shank

Activism works, especially when it causes a lot of bad publicity. Perhaps you recall the story of Debbie Shank; I blogged about it here and here. Shank is a former Wal-Mart employee, now permanently disabled and brain-damaged, and living in a nursing home. After her family won a small settlement to help pay for her care, Wal-Mart sued them for that claim.

It takes Wal-Mart all of 38 seconds to earn the $470,000 that they spent on Shank's care. But they sued her husband to get that money back - and they got away with it.

From Wal-Mart Watch:
It took a massive media outcry and the voices of thousands of Americans, but Wal-Mart has finally taken a small step in the right direction with a change to its 2009 health care plan, which should prevent the company from putting another family through the agony it put Debbie Shank's family.

The new rule is an exception to the company's right to subrogate against a covered person completely in cases of 1) paraplegia or quadriplegia; 2) severe burns; 3) total and permanent physical or mental disability; or 4) death. In all other cases, the plan also limits the right to recover to 50% (from 100% previously) of a settlement plus lawyers' fees.

You may recall that it was only months ago that Wal-Mart was battling in court to take money that one of its former Missouri employees -- Debbie Shank -- won in a settlement after being hit by a tractor trailer and becoming paralyzed and permanently brain damaged.

Now, thanks to your efforts, the company is promising its employees that it won't attempt to take their money after a personal health care tragedy like hers. Wal-Mart still has a very long way to go toward offering its employees truly quality health coverage, but it's a good first step.

Jim Shank had this to say about the news of Wal-Mart's change to their health care plan:

"Knowing what Debbie and our family experienced with Wal-Mart's attempts to take away Debbie's financial security for her ongoing medical care on top of a very real, life-changing tragedy, I am grateful that the focus on our situation will spare other families the same type of suffering. I wish it wouldn't have taken national outrage to push Wal-Mart to do the right thing, but I'm glad that the company listened to everyone who spoke up on our behalf."

Tens of thousands of you took action and urged Wal-Mart to treat Debbie and her compassionately. Without your hard work, Wal-Mart certainly would not have changed its policy.

While we still have much to do to make sure that Wal-Mart provides its employees with adequate health care coverage, this was a big victory that would not have been possible without your help.

Thank you for pressuring Wal-Mart to be a responsible corporate citizen.

In Canada, employees at the Wal-Mart in Weyburn, Saskatchewan were granted union status on December 8, but knowing Wal-Mart's history, it's unclear how long that status - or their jobs - will last.
As we know, in 2000 when Wal-Mart meat department employees unionized in Jacksonville, Texas, Wal-Mart abruptly scrapped their entire network of in store butchers. [Occupational Health & Safety, 3/16/08]

In August 2004, workers in Jonquière, Quebec store gained union certification and attempted to bargain with Wal-Mart but were unable to reach a settlement. On February 1, 2005, the same day that the Minster of Labor granted the union's request for contract arbitration, Wal-Mart announced that it would close the Jonquière store. [Human Rights Watch "Discounting Rights", May 2007] [Go here for full story and links.]

As always, Wal-Mart Watch is the best source of news on the battles to hold North America's largest employer accountable for labour, environment, health care and the communities it claims to serve.

1 comment:

redsock said...

38 seconds.

...

(I guess for Wal-Mart, it's the principle. "Well, if we treat you like a human being, then soon everyone will expect that type of special attention.)