Via Nathan Newman comes tell of some innovative methods being used or proposed to force Wal-Mart into the realm of the socially conscious. Montana is considering a plan whereby large retailers would face an additional tax on receipts unless they proved their employees made a living wage. George Miller Ken Toole, the Congressman state senator behind the proposal, sensibly argues that since the state has to subsidize what underpaid Wal-Mart employees can't buy (health insurance, etc), Wal-Mart might as well be forced to fund the effort.
I'm a big fan of ideas like this (I hope Monsieur Singer will pop by to tell us about its chances in the Leg), not least because they seem so karmically delicious. Montana, however, is small enough that Wal-Mart could easily absorb the costs of such a proposal without having to change their business practices. California, on the other hand, is not. If we passed a similar bill, it'd have the same effect of our auto standards. When we decreed that cars sold here had to meet a much-higher emissions bar than they did nationwide, the effect was similar to a federal mandate -- automakers can't make one car for our market and one car for all others, we're too large.
In the same vein, Wal-Mart would find that the costs of complying with the law, when added with the costs of their flailing public image, would be pretty high. It might indeed be cheaper to simply let the stores unionize, or at least defuse that pressure by jacking wages up, rather than remaining hostage to hostile legislatures and bad publicity.