Wal-Mart Watch: Bloomberg reports on Wal-Mart's investment in re-electing George Bush, and Costco's in unseating him: Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer and owner of Sam's Club warehouse stores, gives more money to Republican candidates than any other company. Its top three managers, including Chief Executive Officer H. Lee Scott, donated the individual maximum $2,000 to President George W. Bush, and Jay Allen, vice president for corporate affairs, raised at least $100,000 to re-elect the president, earning him the Bush campaign's designation of ``Pioneer.''...Costco CEO Jim Sinegal, 68, is a Democrat who says Bush's $1.7 trillion in tax cuts unfairly benefit the wealthy. He opposed the Iraq war and supports Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts for president. And he's the only chief executive of a company in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index to donate money to independent political groups formed to oust Bush, Internal Revenue Service records show. ...Kerry, 60, a four-term senator, pledges to induce more employers to insure workers with a $257 billion proposal calling for the government to pay most so-called catastrophic health-care costs -- only for companies that provide comprehensive coverage. He'd raise the minimum wage and make it easier for workers to join unions. Those policies may benefit Costco and hurt Wal-Mart. Issaquah, Washington-based Costco offers comprehensive health insurance to most of its 78,000 U.S. employees, making it eligible for Kerry's plan, said Kerry's top domestic policy adviser, Sarah Bianchi, 31. That may cut 10 percent, or $35 million, off its annual health-care premiums. Wal-Mart's health plan for its 1.3 million U.S. workers is probably not broad enough to qualify for the savings that Kerry's proposal would bring, since it doesn't cover enough workers, said Jason Furman, 33, the Democrat's chief economic-policy adviser. Fewer than half of Wal-Mart's employees are enrolled in the company health plan, according to figures supplied by the retailer. Costco wouldn't have to raise salaries with Kerry's proposal to increase the minimum wage to $7 an hour, from $5.15 now. It already pays hot-dog vendors as much as $16 an hour. The lowest wage it pays -- $10 an hour -- is still higher than Wal-Mart's average wage of $9.96, even after Wal-Mart raised it from $9.64 last month for full-time workers. And the 1.4 million-member Teamsters Union said its workers at Costco have the ``best retail contracts in the country,'' according to Rome Aloise, head of Teamsters Local 853 in San Leandro, California, which represents 1,000 of the company's workers...Wal-Mart has benefited from the president's opposition to raising the minimum wage, since some employees make less than $7 an hour, and from the Republican-controlled Congress's reluctance to make it easier for workers to unionize...Sinegal makes no apologies for Costco's policies, saying higher wages reduce employee turnover, which lowers training costs. ``I'm not a social engineer,'' he said in an interview. ``Paying good wages is simply good business.'' In other words, Kerry is proposing vital steps towards what some political scientists call "paving the high road" - increasing the benefits and decreasing the costs of more just, more sustainable business practices like investing in better compensation for employees and lower turnover rather than the low road of investing in continually hiring and training a casualized, high turnover workforce in hopes of stifling worker militancy. Costco supports Kerry for the reason we should support Kerry over and Costco over Wal-Mart: Because the high road is better for Americans as workers, consumers, and citizens. Wal-Mart supports Bush because both have a stake in perpetuating the race to the bottom.


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