As reported earlier this week, Wal-Mart pulled out all the stops in a big-ticket advertising campaign in 15 newspapers across California. The media splash was designed to counter the widespread criticisms spread by the company’s critics. As Fortune magazine said this week, Wal-Mart is “selling its softer side after a barrage of criticism over poor worker benefits, strong-arming suppliers.” Wal-Mart bought full page ads in the following newspapers: Contra Costa Times, Fresno Bee, Hoy, La Opinion, Los Angeles Daily News, Los Angeles Sentinel, Los Angeles Times, Modesto Bee, Oakland Tribune, Orange County Register, Sacramento Bee, San Bernardino Sun, San Diego Union-Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury News. Here’s the uncut text of their “Letter from Wal-Mart to the People of California”: At Wal-Mart we understand our ability to operate and grow in California depends on the support of you — our customers. Each day we work to keep your trust by offering quality merchandise at low prices, being a good neighbor in the communities we serve and supporting economic growth throughout the state. As the company has grown, we’ve become a target for negative comments from certain elected officials, competitors and powerful special interest groups. While we are always willing to consider constructive criticism, much of what has been said publicly about Wal-Mart in California is simply not true. We think that our customers and the people of California need to know the facts: — Wal-Mart pays competitive wages. In California our average wage is $10.37 per hour — a rate that is in line with comparable retailers. Nearly 80 percent of our California associates (that is, employees) work full time. Many of our jobs are held by working “retirees,” working spouses supplementing a family income and students working through school. For many young people, this is their entry into the work force. Wal-Mart simply could not continue to grow if we didn’t offer a desirable place to work. In fact, virtually every time we open a new store, we receive a flood of applications. For example, when we prepared to open our National City, Calif. store last year, we received 15,000 applications for 350 job openings. — Wal-Mart offers medical coverage to both full- and part-time associates. In addition to medical and dental care, our associates receive benefits like a profit sharing and 401(k) plan, merchandise discounts, performance-based bonuses and life insurance. A large percentage of associates — 40 percent — covered by Wal-Mart’s healthcare plan didn’t have any medical insurance before joining the company. — Wal-Mart provides tremendous career opportunities. Nationally, more than 9,000 hourly associates were promoted into management jobs last year and two-thirds of our store management started their careers with Wal-Mart in hourly positions. — Wal-Mart is planning to open as many as 40 Supercenters in California over the next few years. Supercenters combine a traditional Wal-Mart store with a full line of groceries under one roof. Customers in 47 other states currently enjoy the convenience and low prices that Wal-Mart Supercenters provide. According to a recent study by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, with the entry of Wal-Mart Supercenters into Southern California, area consumers will save at least $3.7 billion annually, or $589 per household per year, once Wal-Mart reaches 20 percent market share in the region. — Wal-Mart is an integral part of the California economy, purchasing goods and services ranging from agricultural to entertainment, high tech to consumer package goods. Last year, Wal-Mart purchased more than $8 billion in goods and services from 4,600 California suppliers. Much of what California grows and manufactures is distributed to Wal-Mart stores across the country and around the world. — Our stores generate significant tax revenue for local communities, helping to fund important city services, including police and fire protection. In California last year, Wal-Mart generated more than $650 million in sales tax revenues. — Giving back to our communities by supporting local organizations is very important to us. Last year, California Wal-Mart stores and SAM’S CLUBs raised and contributed more than $11 million for local causes and organizations throughout the state. Overall, Wal-Mart is the largest corporate cash contributor to charity in the United States. In closing, we expect that our company will continue to attract attention and even criticism in California. We will continue to listen and react to criticism that is valid. But we also will continue to react to half-truths and misinformation about our company. Our customers, communities and associates in California deserve nothing less.
None of the figures contained in this “open letter” can be independently verified. The Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation study, for example, was funded by Wal-Mart. One of the most absurd statements in this letter suggests that consumers will reap savings “once Wal-Mart reaches 20 percent market share in the region.” Isn’t it painfully clear that if Wal-Mart gains 20% market share, that other retailers have lost 20% market share? I call this presentation “Wal-Math.” They don’t teach it in California schools. It is a form of arithmetic that displays only gross figures, never net. Their calculator at Wal-Mart has no minus pad. Out of thin air they can miraculously “create” a 20% market share without creating any economic displacment in the local economy. How much, for example, of the purchase of $8 billion in goods and services from California vendors was already being purchased by other retailers that cut back their purchases or went out of business completely because of Wal-Mart’s growing market share? Wal-Mart complains that statements by its critics are “simply not true.” The statements in Wal-Mart’s open letter would seem to suffer from the same lack of veracity.