Wal-Mart, Union Unite on Universal Health

Strange bedfellows are uniting to promote universal health care. The latest alliance is between Wal-Mart and its longtime nemesis, the Service Employees International Union.

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REN, Host:

Our business news starts with another call for overhauling healthcare.

Wal-Mart and the Service Employees International Union may be unlikely bedfellows, but the nation's biggest private employer says it's joining with one of the nation's largest unions to try to help fix the nation's healthcare system.

NPR's Frank Langfitt reports.

FRANK LANGFITT: Unions usually trash Wal-Mart. This is Andy Stern, the head of the Service Employees a couple of years ago.

ANDY STERN: The truth is it is a bully to its workers. It's a bully to communities. It doesn't pay its fair share.

LANGFITT: But yesterday, Stern joined Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott at a Washington news conference to say the nation's employer-based system isn't working, and to press for universal health coverage. Here's Lee Scott on the unusual alliance.

LEE SCOTT: In this town, many people often talk about putting aside their differences and coming together to move America forward. Today, many on this stage did just that.

LANGFITT: Other unions, though, say the get-together is just a Wal-Mart PR ploy. Chris Kofinis works for Wake-Up Wal-Mart, a union-backed muckraker.

CHRIS KOFINIS: When you look at the reality, this company is facing a public image collapse, and they clearly understand that healthcare is one of the key reasons for that.

LANGFITT: But Stern says he believes Lee Scott means well. He cited Wal-Mart's environmental work, like promoting more efficient light bulbs. What was it that he said that made you think he was truly sincere and surprised you?

KOFINIS: Well, first of all, I think it's what they did around some of the environmental issues, was enormously important. I hope that his involvement and the rest of the CEOs involvement would be a tipping point for change in America on health care.

LANGFITT: The Business Union Alliance plans a summit in May.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News.

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