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Wal-Mart Denounces Health Bill

Retailer Says Maryland Could Lose Future Jobs

By Michael Barbaro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 7, 2005; Page E01

ROGERS, Ark., April 6 -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc. yesterday said approval of a bill that would require it to boost health care spending in Maryland could endanger its plans for growth in the state, including a new distribution center that would employ as many as 1,000.

The company questioned the motivation behind the bill, which is backed by a top competitor and its labor union.

Wal-Mart "will have to rethink its future growth in a state that is willing to pass such a bad business bill," said Nate Hurst, a government relations manager for the company. "This type of legislation, where lawmakers single out one employer, does not create a favorable environment."

The bill nearing approval in the Maryland General Assembly is touted by supporters as a step forward in health care policy for workers, but Wal-Mart is asking why Giant Food LLC and the union representing Giant workers have so strongly endorsed the legislation.

Wal-Mart, with 52 stores and 15,000 employees in Maryland, is now a powerful force in the grocery industry, and its growing share of the local market is coming, in part, retail analysts say, at Giant's expense.

"It's unfortunate that a competitor would use the legislative process," Hurst said. "Is this bill really tackling health care for the state of Maryland or trying to get at one of Giant's competitors?"

Wal-Mart's distribution center planned for Somerset County could be affected, the company said. The company is planning to build an approximately 1-million-square-foot distribution center in the town of Princess Anne. Hurst said the facility would initially employ 350, and after five years, up to 1,000. "The company is still working through plans to build a distribution center," he said.

Wal-Mart's sharp reaction to the bill came as it wrapped up a two-day media conference here in northwestern Arkansas that was designed to repair its image.

The discount giant, which in the United States operates more than 3,700 stores and employs 1.2 million people, has been the subject of class-action lawsuits accusing it of gender discrimination and labor law violations, and last month it forced out a director for allegedly misusing as much as $500,000 in company funds.

In a series of presentations Wednesday, executives documented Wal-Mart's efforts to improve the diversity of its workforce and to address discrimination complaints, saying it boosted the percentage of women and minorities across the company last year. As of 2004, women accounted for 38.3 percent of salaried managers, up from 36.3 percent in 2003, the company said.

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