Gay Rights in Aisle 3? Walmart to Support Same-Sex Partnerships (But Not Higher Wages)

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Gay rights may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Walmart, but it’s sure on the mind of the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer.

While Wal Mart is battling employees demanding union rights and higher wages for full time workers, the company says its upgrading its healthcare benefits programs to employees in all 50 states to include coverage for same-sex domestic partnerships.

Just doing business rather than offering a full-on show of support for gay rights, the world’s largest retail chain said of the move in a company-wide memo: “It’s a business decision, not a moral or political decision. We operate in 50 states, hundreds of municipalities and Puerto Rico, and as clarified under the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), each of these states are developing different definitions of marriage, domestic partner, civil union, etc. By developing a single definition for all Walmart associates in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, we are able to ensure consistency for associates across our markets.”

The memo went on to remind Walmart employees about etiquette: “Your behavior matters. The words you use also matter. We are counting on you to be thoughtful, supportive and understanding of multiple viewpoints. Your visibility can make a big difference to how associates feel.”

The retail chain may be following the letter of the law on the recent DOMA ruling, which is certainly good news for gay rights, but it’s still trying to avoid labor discussions with employees. According to CBS, employees say the average $12.83 per hour for full time Walmart workers is unlivable—and becoming increasingly rare. “Factor in that the company won’t say what the overall average wage is nor how many of its employees can’t get fulltime work, and the real average likely drops even lower. Low-paying part-time work has become a national trend and problem.”

In the wake of the fast food strikes that have been occurring around the country over wage increases, a group calling itself OUR Walmart says that its organizing strikes in order to encourage the retailer to discuss higher wages and a stronger union presence in its stores. But like the fast food chains, Walmart may be taking the position that it’s doing its best, CBS reports that corporate interests fund PR campaigns opposing wage increases and unions. “Issues of wages and economic disparities are important and need to be discussed. However, much of the conversation is being directed by the actions and PR campaigns of large opponents with their own interests and resources far beyond what average people have available.”

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: walmart

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