Thursday, July 16, 2009

The NRF Strikes Back

President Barack Obama’s proposed employer mandate provision, which would require large companies to provide medical insurance for employees, continues to divide retailers. Wal-Mart’s support of the proposal last week drew a sharp rebuttal from the National Retail Federation. NRF President Tracy Mullin published an open letter to retailers, condemning Wal-Mart’s position and other top NRF executives took their campaign to the media.

Now, companies are choosing sides. Target and Kelly Services Inc. say they may support Wal-Mart’s call for an employer mandate, pending the final language of the proposal, according to a Bloomberg article. Conversely, Whole Foods Market, United Parcel Service, and Wegmans Food Markets are among those opposing mandatory employer coverage.

I spoke to NRF VP Neil Trautwein (here in a video clip) about the issues dividing the retail community and the NRF’s stand. “Our objective is to get lower costs, better quality, and more effective health care,” Trautwein told me. “And we’re doing our best to get there.”

Trautwein characterized the NRF’s attack on Wal-Mart as essential as other retailers work to improve health care coverage for employees. “We’re not going out of our way to kick up a fight with the biggest retailer on the block,” Trautwein told me. “But here they come cutting a side deal and throwing a monkey wrench into the works, so we cried foul and asked our members to follow suit. We tried to paint Wal-Mart as we think they are: outliers in the debate.”

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