Stand Up to Wal-Mart on Health Care
The General Assembly received a pungent reminder recently of why members must override Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s veto of health-care legislation known as the Wal-Mart Bill.
In an internal Wal-Mart memo leaked to The New York Times, a vice president for benefits confessed to the health care policies that have turned many shoppers away from the nation’s biggest retailer on ethical grounds.
“Our coverage is expensive for low-income families, and Wal-Mart has a significant percentage of associates and their children on public assistance,” the company executive wrote to board members explaining why the company’s image is taking a beating.
In other words, a company that reported $10 billion in profit last year does such a poor job of taking care of its employees that all of us must pick up its families’ welfare tabs.
The General Assembly fought this outrage last year by passing the Fair Share Health Care Act, which requires businesses with more than 10,000 employees to spend at least eight percent of their payroll on employee health insurance as a condition for doing business in Maryland.
Unfortunately, the legislation sparked a veto because it did not fit into Ehrlich’s business-friendly worldview.
The General Assembly is close to having the votes needed to override the governor, but it won’t be easy. Wal-Mart is spending heavily on lobbyists in Annapolis trying to prevent such bold initiatives from spreading around the country.
As part of its image campaign, the company has hired a former Tobacco Institute strategist and an operative associated with far-right political causes to operate a new public relations war-room.
The company may be needing to explain why, for instance, it wants to send applicants into its parking lot to fetch shopping carts as a way of determining whether they might be unhealthy and an unwise investment for health insurance, the Times also reported.
Then there’s the new effort to hire younger employees not for their spunk but for their capacity to stay healthier longer.
Wal-Mart does some good things: The company was big in Hurricane Katrina relief, it announced a new energy savings plan recently and it endorsed an increase in the $5.15 minimum wage (Ehrlich also vetoed an increase passed in our legislature.)
But there are reasons to stand up to Wal-Mart on principle, among them the company’s continuing drive to undercut and destroy small businesses, which we regard as the backbone of every community.
At a time when just about everybody is struggling with the costs of health insurance for their families, we should not permit the No. 1 company on the Fortune 500 list to hand off its burdens to us.