business news in context, analysis with attitude

I said the other day that everything I’m hearing about Winn-Dixie and its CEO, Peter Lynch, these days suggests that a real turnaround is taking place, which led one MNB user to write:

I worked for Peter Lynch for a short time a number of years ago when we were both on the big American Stores re-engineering project.  He was a classy guy then in a way that is character driven.  Then as now he summed up retail operations as being about the customers and the employees... each one at a time.  He was not in an operations role at the time, but his mind was always on the customer impact.  He helped me and my team stay focused and dialed into customer expectations....

I would say of all the people I have worked for and with there is none I would rather work for again than Peter Lynch.

Your impressions are not wrong...

Another MNB user wrote:

From the outside looking in three years ago, I would not have bet two nickels on Winn-Dixie’s ability to revive themselves. I think three years from now, they will join the likes of JCPenney’s as a turnaround worthy of a Harvard Business School case study. Hats off to Peter and his team.

But not everybody is convinced...and MNB user Richard Evans wrote:

I'll know Winn Dixie has officially made it's come-back when I begin responding to it's                                 advertising circulars which come out in my local paper or in the mail at least once a week. They have been notoriously lacking in bang for the buck.

Pricing has been any thing but competitive, as though I should just run over there to soak in                                   the Winn Dixie experience which has been lackluster, even in the most upscale stores.

Until I see some movement in the pricing, I won't go back.

Layout is the other bug-a-boo. A cordoned off barricade prohibiting me from going where I want to go in the store instead of where they want me to go. Does herding come to mind?

Not a very friendly welcome. I wish them luck if they are listening.

Yesterday, I described a Shaw’s store in Darien, Connecticut - soon to be sold to Stop & Shop - as “mediocre.”

Which led Jack Bibbo of Shaw’s to respond:

You’re really full of it, KC. The Darien Shaw’s is not a mediocre unit… it’s newly remodeled, well run small market with wonderful customer oriented associates.

We’ll have to agree to disagree.

True, it is newly remodeled. It also is one of the least inspired remodeling efforts that I have ever seen.

Listen, maybe we just put the bar in different places. And maybe one of us is grading on a curve.

We got a lot of email about the following story:

The Grand Rapids Press reports that Walmart is facing some criticism - and even some calls for a boycott - over the decision to fire a 29-year-old cancer patient who tested positive for marijuana while working for the company at a Battle Creek, Michigan, store.

According to the story, the employee was a registered medical marijuana user who tested positive “during a worker's compensation screening after he sprained his knee on the job.”

In a statement, Walmart said, “In states, such as Michigan, where prescriptions for marijuana can be obtained, an employer can still enforce a policy that requires termination of employment following a positive drug screen. We believe our policy complies with the law and we support decisions based on the policy." The company also reportedly is contesting the employee’s attempt to claim unemployment benefits on the grounds that “any marijuana use still is a violation of federal law, even if states are allowing it in some cases.”

Walmart’s position is being disputed by a number of organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which argues that it is “immoral and it's illegal to fire somebody for treating their disease with a medicine that's legal and recommended by someone's physician."

My comment:

The paper makes the excellent point that this is probably just the beginning of what will be an ongoing debate about this particular drug use by employees. I understand that Walmart and a lot of other companies probably will feel hemmed in by what they think of as traditional values, and will not be accommodating.

However, I have to say that I think Walmart is wrong on this one. I think when you have an employee suffering from cancer, you do everything possible to make their situation tenable.

My mom died of cancer a little over 12 years ago. It started with lung cancer, brought on by 40 years of smoking. (She’d actually managed to quit after numerous agonizing and failed attempts and hadn’t had a cigarette for five years when she had her first seizure, caused because the cancer had spread to her brain.) A tough broad, my mom managed to survive for about four years before finally passing away...and at any point during those extraordinarily tough years, had she wanted and had access to medical marijuana, I would have fully endorsed her use of it.

I understand laws. I understand traditions. But how do you say no to someone who is suffering? How do you take away their ability to support themselves and have access to health insurance at the most vulnerable point in their lives?

One MNB user responded:

I think you're wrong on this one, Kevin. While I have great sympathy for this young man, a person on drugs, for any reason, becomes a risk not only for that individual, but also for the coworkers and customers.  And did his sprained knee occur as a result of being under the influence of marijuana at work?  This is a double-edged sword.  I'm behind Walmart on this one.

MNB user Dan Moraczewski wrote:

Kevin, I understand your empathy with the cancer patient in Michigan, but if an employer allows in Michigan, do they not have to allow usage in California, where anyone for any reason can get a prescription for marijuana.  Even California has admitted this is out of hand and trying to close the majority of marijuana outlets in Los Angeles.

MNB user Clayton R. Hoerauf wrote:

The distant roar that you hear is the sound of the MNB readers who also happen to be FOX viewers pounding out e-mails condemning you for your far left wing liberal, socially destructive views on this subject. I lost my father and sister, both smokers to the same demon. I’m with you. Anything that helps in this situation should be legal in all 50 states AND Walmart!

MNB user Philip Herr wrote:

In the words of Ben Johnson, “The law is an ass”. What happened to common sense? We are so afraid of using judgment that we (institutions primarily) cower behind the law and its narrow interpretation. The lawyers win on both sides of this issue. Ironic that we are so quick to pass judgment on all and sundry, but so reluctant to use it. And to conclude in a literary vein, “First of all, let’s kill all the lawyers” (Shakespeare).

MNB user John Thompson wrote:

I agree that this is likely just the beginning of these kind of incidents.  Although I do agree that in those cases that medical marijuana is necessary and prescribed, somewhere there needs to be a balance between the liability of a company who is damaged by an employee on marijuana (or any other “numbing” agent) and the needs of the company.  In this day and age of making concessions based on disabilities, it seems this subject needs to be added to the list.  Companies must be able to protect themselves given our courts propensity to punish a lack of action.
One MNB user wrote:

Okay, first let me remind you that I am NOT a WalMart fan; I avoid shopping there at all cost…. I am also in favor of the use of Marijuana for medical reasons (maybe we could more loosely define that too!).

That having been said, according the ABC News, this case goes back to November 2009 and was resurfaced only after the employee thought WalMart was challenging his eligibility for unemployment benefits, which they weren’t…the article goes on to say that even if that is the case, the employee says "I'm currently taking a look at all my options available," he said. "I am currently talking to an attorney at this point."

Meanwhile, I wonder if the Michigan State Police would have let him go if he was pulled over and showed his card authorizing the use of medical marijuana. If someone were injured while using oxycontin, vicodin, percocet etc. would the employer be responsible or the employee? The article also goes on to say that the employee never informed Walmart of his situation. Perhaps if he had went to Human Resources and explained what was happening they could have found another position (he unloads trucks for the store) where he would be less likely to be injured- cashier, maintenance, lot attendant, etc. He says he didn’t use it during work hours, but also talks about the excruciating pain he was in due to his cancer-how could he possible spend 40 hours a week enduring that pain? I am not criticizing him for the marijuana use, I am not saying that Walmart couldn’t have been more empathetic to his situation…I am saying the lack of communication might be what caused the end result.

Where I come from, if you test positive for drugs, your employer is obligated to keep you as long as you go through rehabilitation. In this case, that wouldn’t have been an option. According to the article, Walmart is in the spotlight, but there is no clear law on the use of medical marijuana in many situations including driving, landlord/tenant agreement or employers.

Where Walmart is wrong, they’re wrong (which is MOST of the time)…I think this is one of those gray areas that some spotlight seeking attorney jumped on because clearly WalMart+Lawsuit=$$$

Another MNB user wrote:

I agree with your position. I had a dear friend who illegally used marijuana for years as a pain control for a disease that finally killed him. He did not get high, he did get pain relief. It is interesting to note that employees could be “stoned” and I mean “stoned” on pain killers but they would neither be tested nor fired for the same.  People are ignorant about marijuana.

Another MNB user wrote:

It is a shame on America to allow predatory capitalistic companies to impact the lives of individuals and their families during a time of vulnerability, maximizing their pain and suffering. However, dope does not belong in the workplace; it puts others at risk.  Plus, there are too many other natural options to control pain…ask any naturopath or herbalist.

MNB user Andy Casey wrote:

Oh, you have probably done it now, with your comments today on this issue.  But no matter which side of the issue people come down on, I think it really is missing the point of Wal-Mart's problem - is it legal or not?  If you ask the DEA, they will tell you it absolutely is not legal, regardless of what individual states may say.  For WM, if this individual is taking his "prescription" (whether at work or not) and is involved in an accident they are likely to get sued / fined by OSHA for workplace violations related to safety issues caused by someone known to be using drugs which are illegal under federal law.  I am not really defending them (frankly, I suspect there are many at WM who would agree it is unfair) but seems to me they are between the proverbial "rock and a hard place" until the various governments get on the same page.

Another MNB user chimed in:

I have a friend who is fighting cancer.  She is 40 years old (too young!).  She also works for a small-ish business.  After years of excellent reviews, suddenly her boss finds her performance to be dismal.  The HR person told her to start looking for a new job, as they are likely to fire her for bad performance if she stays there.

This is clearly a small business trying to reduce their cost of health care benefits by getting rid of an employee who is being treated for cancer.

I doubt that Walmart is really firing that employee for drug use.  They are firing them to reduce their insurance expenses. They're just using a handy excuse.

Yet another reason why insurance companies have no place in the medical world.  We need a single payer system, to cut costs, and to make sure that companies don't kick people while they're sick. Why put a for-profit layer between doctors and patients?  It makes no sense.

MNB user Bert Edwards wrote:

This is going to be a tough issue for businesses. While I agree 100% with your comments about cancer patients (I have a cancer survivor in my family), the challenge will be how to handle the next person that fails the drug test and has a note from his doctor who has prescribed marijuana for anxiety, a stiff neck, or any number of ailments. I don’t know the answer, but I do know if you work at it, you can find a doctor to prescribe just about anything.

Still another MNB user wrote:

I'm guessing that there is more to the story than presented in the article. I've seen it done before. A writer has a bias and allows that bias to influence how they write an article. Was the employee productive? Were they really suffering and in need of marijuana for this purpose? Or were they using the law to legitimize their pre-existing lifestyle?

I too would endorse marijuana use by a loved one with cancer if it could ease their suffering. If that's truly the case here, then i think Walmart is wrong in their stance. But is that truly the case?

And MNB user Jerry Sheldon wrote:

My father passed away about 4 years ago from pancreatic cancer. It was a horrible process to watch with pancreatic cancer being one of those that is swiftly progressing. From diagnosis (it is hard to find) to death was about 6 months for him. It is quite strange but they do make quite a few pain killers that address the issue that are allowed in all 50 states. My personal feeling is that medical marijuana’s push is not really about helping patients, but pushing a social agenda.

A couple of quick responses here.

First, we don’t know that this employee’s in-store performance was affected by his use of medical marijuana. It seems entirely reasonable to me that if a company has a staffer with cancer who is using medical marijuana to alleviate the symptoms, they should be able to ask that there be a buffer between the time it is used and the time the person comes to work.

It strikes me as easy to suggest that maybe this guy is just a dope user, that this is more a matter of a pre-existing lifestyle than a matter of dealing with cancer symptoms. Easy...and extremely cynical.

Finally, for the record, I have no social agenda here. None. I’m not even sure how I feel about marijuana legalization in the broader sense. What I believe in is compassion. And the evidence seems to be that marijuana is helpful to people suffering from a terrible disease ... and so we need to find a way to let them use it.

I am sympathetic to the companies who have to leaven their compassion with legal concerns. Or maybe have to leaven their legal concerns with compassion.

I just think there was a better way for Walmart to handle it.

And if this weren’t controversial enough...MNB posted an email yesterday from a reader who criticized the Texas Board of Education for approving a “social studies curriculum that will put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks, stressing the superiority of American capitalism, questioning the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government and presenting Republican political philosophies in a more positive light."

MNB user Kayla M. Anderson wrote:

I had to call out the danger of forcefully placing a slant in textbooks.

The reach of approved curriculum is near 100% in the state of Texas, and while some teachers may opt for different books, there is a number who won’t.  The mental development of children doesn’t support the critical thought necessary to process said textbooks with a grain of salt until the late teens.  Furthermore, critical thought and questioning authority are skills characteristics underrepresented in children of lower-income households (Gladwell). A biased textbook wouldn’t be received any differently by students than any other… shame on TX for willfully bending perceptions.  It will likely result in an under-prepared, under-educated student body.

But MNB user John F. Welsh Jr. disagreed:

The liberal newspapers and television networks in the Northeast have bashed the textbook revisions in Texas, charging that the changes were made to reflect "conservative" values. They have painted the majority of our state board of education as "right-wing kooks" who are rewriting history, and forcing Texas values on the rest of the nation.

Hogwash! The changes reflect traditional values and historical facts in Texas, and nothing more. The media seems to be upset because textbooks used in Texas happen to be used in many parts of the country, and thus Texas is influencing others by actions of our kooks.

Maybe --- just maybe --- the same textbooks used in Texas are used in other parts of the country because they also reflect the values of that part of the country. Traditional values in Texas reflect those of our multi-cultural society, just as they have since we joined the United States in 1845 --- 165 years ago.

It is interesting that you ended your email with that reference to Texas joining the United States...because wasn’t it the Governor of Texas who not too long ago implied that if the federal government didn’t get its act together, it was at least possible that Texas could secede from the union? (This is sort of inarguable...I’ve heard the sound bite.)

We live in a country where one person’s “historical facts” and “traditional values” are another person’s distortions and propaganda. Without passing judgement on Texas or Texans, I would merely suggest that in my travels, I have found that there are as many people in Seattle and New York and Boston who have what I would think of as traditional American values as there are in Texas and Virginia and Georgia. However, some people - and this has nothing to do with where they live - actually believe in so-called traditional American values, and some people use that phrase as code for something else.
KC's View: