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Readers of Monday’s New York Times may be forgiven for thinking an article by James Dao was about a new insult to America’s military veterans. After all, Dao reported that soon all vets separated from active duty within the past year, without dishonorable discharges, might be facing an even harsher existence than military life – as Walmart employees. Study after study has shown the retail behemoth to be a cutthroat employer of last resort, most of whose business innovations seem to involve new ways to save the corporation money by slashing employee hours and benefits.

veterans medals

Somehow, though, that didn’t figure much into the Times story. Instead, we read about a patriotic company with plans to hire 100,000 service men and women – essentially any American vet who needs a job. The recruitment begins Memorial Day, no less. According to the Times:

“Gary Profit, a retired Army brigadier general who is senior director of military programs at Walmart, said the company might not be able to guarantee that every veteran who wants a full-time job will be able to get one. But he said that because of the size of Walmart’s retail operation and supply chain, it is almost certain that the company could find a job — even a part-time one — close to any veteran who wanted one.”

the frying pan

Before anyone begins singing “Happy Days Are Here Again,” it’s instructive to look at General Profit’s line about part-time jobs, as one of Walmart’s innovations has been to deprive its workers of benefits by making them part-time employees.

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Veterans thinking of enlisting in the Walmart army of impoverished workers need only do a little comparison shopping in the Wages & Benefits aisle. An Army corporal (E-4), for example, who’s been in the service between two and three years makes $2,081 per month, according to new pay grades that went into effect January 1. That’s just under $25,000 a year — in addition to free medical and dental care, plus commissary, PX and mess hall privileges.

By contrast, the average full-time Walmart associate starts at $15,500 annually. That employee also has access to health care benefits and reduced food costs – through Medicaid and food stamps, since his low wages qualify him for those relief programs. Even a buck private (E-1) who is about to be discharged after a single two-year hitch makes $18,192 per annum.

steve mikulan

Walmart’s promise to hire an army of job-starved veterans may prove to be an audacious financial and PR coup for the company. Vets, however, should carefully examine Walmart’s motives for its helpful offer. In business as in war – with friends like these, who needs enemies?

Steven Mikulan
The Frying Pan

Thursday, 17 January 2013