This is big. Will the Republican delegation from Northwest Arkansas mount the picket lines at Walmart
headquarters in Bentonville, such as the Bentonville representative who led the legislature to adopt a resolution affirming the General Assembly's belief in the rightness of discrimination against homosexuals?
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), the world’s largest retailer, will now allow workers’ same-sex partners to participate in its company health benefits.
Full-time associates’ spouses and domestic partners will be eligible for coverage in the company’s medical, dental, vision, life, critical illness or accident plans, the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company said in a postcard to employees this week that was provided to Bloomberg.
Wal-Mart, which has frequently been targeted by labor-rights groups pushing for better pay and benefits, said it made the change so it could have a consistent policy for all 50 states as some of them alter their definitions of marriage, domestic partnerships and civil unions.
“We thought it was important to develop a single definition for all Wal-Mart associates in the U.S. to give them consistency in the various markets we operate in across the country,” Randy Hargrove, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said in telephone interview.
The retailer’s definition of domestic partners includes same- or opposite-sex spouses, unmarried partners who live together for at least 12 months, are not married to anyone else and plan to continue sharing a household indefinitely, Hargrove said.
Walmart even operates in Arkansas, where constitutionally and statutorily we still believe in and practice discrimination. Nonetheless, in Arkansas, Walmart will give employees the kind of coverage enjoyed by citizens of states that believe in equality.
The company has more than 1 million U.S. employees and covers more than 1 million people in its various health plans.
We reported some time back
about Walmart's strides in recognizing equality on ground of sexual orientation.
The policy, as noted, covers all types of domestic partners, but the coverage of same-sex partners is a significant stride. Perhaps it will encourage the University of Arkansas System,
which has dithered for months on a similar policy for university employees. The Central Arkansas Library System
provides domestic benefits for its employees. The policies are less about equal rights than the understanding that healthy families make for more productive workers.
I confirmed the policy change in a conversation myself with Randy Hargrove, who emphasized that it was part of broad improvement in the company benefit plans — including new visiion coverage, coverage for hip and knee replacements, an "all-night shopping tool" to locate medical services and the lowest premium increase for Walmart coverage in some time (3 to 10 percent).
He emphasized that the policy covered all types of domestic situations, but acknowledged that a desire to have a consistent policy in place in all 50 states grew from the changing landscape of state law and federal court rulings related to same-sex partners. And what of states where the law could be interpreted as specifically prohibiting government benefits bestowed to a married couple to a same-sex couple? That wouldn't affect Walmart in Arkansas as a private employer, but the new company policy does run counter to prevailing political sentiment in the legislature.
"Our decision is a business decision, not a moral or a political decision.."
Here's the Walmart postcard announcing domestic coverage changes.
I've highlighted the key portion in the photo below.