By  on September 2, 2009

WASHINGTON — Union-backed on Tuesday took aim at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. over health care.

The coalition of unions, consumer groups and other organizations launched two health care-focused advertisements and outlined an agenda to address broader issues of workers’ rights, corporate responsibility and environmental issues at Wal-Mart.

The push by comes as the retail giant has waded into the health care debate this summer. In July, Wal-Mart came out very publicly in favor of a controversial employer mandate provision in health care reform legislation being drafted on Capitol Hill. The endorsement, made in conjunction with the Service Employees International Union, ruffled feathers in the retail industry but garnered positive reactions from some supporters of the employer mandate.

With Wal-Mart front and center on the health care debate, launched ads calling the retailer out for not offering employees enough health care coverage. The ads conclude with, “Wal-Mart can afford to be a better employer. Now would be a good time to start.”

The ads highlight what calls “Wal-Mart’s failure to cover 700,000 of its employees, nearly half its workforce.” The ads were posted on the coalition’s Web siteand are expected to air on television in Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia starting this week and elsewhere the following week.

Reached for comment, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman said, “In today’s economy when families are being squeezed, Wal-Mart is playing an important part in their lives, and that’s what we continue to be focused on.” According to the company, more than 1 million of its employees are eligible for health care, and 94.5 percent of its associates have coverage. The company said it employs 1.4 million workers.

The coalition also called on the retailer to step up its efforts to support workers’ rights, quality jobs and benefits, corporate responsibility and environmental standards.

“Wal-Mart is not an ordinary company. It’s a trendsetter; it’s a pioneer. Wal-Mart must become an ethical leader paving the way for family wages and benefits, good jobs and [by] challenging sweatshops,” said Kim Bobo, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice, also a member of the coalition.

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