The Governor of Maryland and Wal-Mart were the big losers this week, when the Maryland state legislature voted to override the Governor’s veto of a health care bill that would force large companies to pay more for the health care costs of their workers. Governor Robert Ehrlich, who has been the beneficiary of Wal-Mart fund-raising, had vetoed the measure last fall, but the Maryland Senate adopted the measure two days ago on a vote of 30-17, more than enough to override the Governor. The House then followed suit. Wal-Mart employs 16,988 workers in Maryland as of December, 2005. The company has 8 supercenters in the state, 33 discount stores, and 12 Sam’s clubs. The Maryland bill says that employers with more than 10,000 workers have to pay 8% of their payroll costs for employee’s health care — or pay the difference into the state’s low-income health insurance fund. Immediately after the Governor’s veto was overridden, Wal-Mart issued a statement that attacked unions. Their statement said, in part, “With 46 million uninsured Americans, the numbers of this latest Washington, D.C. union leader attack just don’t add up. Clearly, their effort won’t help the uninsured or the working families struggling to deal with the soaring cost of health care… They will do nothing to help the 46 million Americans who are uninsured or the businesses and working families struggling to deal with the soaring cost of health care. 1.3 million Americans work at Wal-Mart. According to one study, more than three-fourths of Wal-Mart associates are insured through the company, a spouse’s plan or Medicare. The numbers of this latest union leader attack just don’t add up.” Wal-Mart said the union “should be trying to solve the challenges facing America’s working families, not attacking Wal-Mart. People will see through the politics of bills that apply only to one company — especially a company that, in some areas, provides working families with access to health care for as little as $11 per month.” Yet Wal-Mart’s own internal documents admit that “our offering is vulnerable to at least some of their criticisms, especially with regard to the affordability of coverage and Associates’ reliance on Medicaid… Our coverage is expensive for low-income families, and Wal-Mart has a significant percentage of Associates and their children on public assistance.” Wal-Mart workers spend twice as much of their income on health care for themselves and their families than the national average, the company’s internal memo admits. “We believe everyone should have access to affordable health insurance, although this legislation does nothing to accomplish that,” a Wal-Mart spokesman said after the Maryland vote. The company even threatened that the retailer might partially pull out of the state according to Reuters, as they did when a Canadian Wal-Mart store was unionized. But some Maryland lawmakers had tough words back for Wal-Mart: “Don’t dump your employees that you refuse to insure into our Medicaid system,” said State Senator Gloria Lawlah, one of the bill’s sponsors. “I hope personally all 49 (other) states will do this. The states are backed up to the wall on this one.”
After the vote, the group Wal-Mart Watch noted that “the Fair Share Health Care bill didn’t target Wal-Mart, as its opponents claimed. Instead, Wal-Mart’s negligence forced it into the bull’s-eye. Of Maryland’s five largest employers, only Wal-Mart failed to meet the minimal standards set for healthcare expenditures for its more than 17,000 Maryland workers… Citizens everywhere are ready to fight. Wal-Mart’s deep pockets, expensive New York PR firms, and high-powered Washington lobbyists have met their match… This is not just another political campaign. This is a call for reform that requires thoughtful dialogue and bipartisan state-and-community-specific partnerships… Wal-Mart could make these changes for itself. But since it refuses to, we will continue to support local communities and states who believe the health care crisis must be solved now. For more information on the Fair Share Health Care movement nationwide, and specific legislation in other states, go to www.walmartwatch.com, and www.wakeupwalmart.com.