Correction to This Article
A Jan. 12 Metro article on Maryland legislation related to Wal-Mart incorrectly said that the AFL-CIO sued to obtain information on how many Wal-Mart workers rely on state aid for health care. The union organization sought that information, unsuccessfully, through legislation.

For One Clerk, Fight for Wal-Mart Bill Is Personal

Wal-Mart employee Cynthia Murray at a news conference about the difficulty of affording health care coverage.
Wal-Mart employee Cynthia Murray at a news conference about the difficulty of affording health care coverage. (By Michael Robinson Chavez -- The Washington Post)
By Mary Otto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 12, 2006

At lunchtime, in the break room of the Wal-Mart store in Laurel, the television delivered the news from the opening day of the General Assembly:

Maryland lawmakers would attempt this week to override the governor's veto of a bill aimed at forcing Wal-Mart to offer more affordable health care coverage to its 17,000 workers in the state.

"You better listen," Cynthia Murray told her co-workers gathered there. When her shift ended at 3 p.m., she turned her back on the store and headed through the rain to Annapolis.

There, the 49-year-old sales associate was embraced by lawmakers and union leaders. Still wearing her blue apron, with its "How May I Help You?" slogan, Murray offered a rare statement in this debate that has drawn national attention and spurred an advertising and lobbying frenzy.

Hers was the voice of someone who might actually be affected.

"I've worked at Wal-Mart for more than five years, and I still can't afford their health care. I know many of my co-workers can't afford it either."

Murray said the $200-a-month plan she was offered to cover her and her husband would cost about a quarter of her monthly pay. So she goes without coverage and prays that she and her family will stay well. She said she might face repercussions for speaking out, but that is beyond her control.

"God puts us in the right place for the right reasons. That is why I am here."

Wal-Mart officials countered that the company recently expanded its range of heath care plans -- including one that provides benefits for as little as $23 a month to a single worker.

"We provide insurance to over 1 million Americans," said Nate Hurst, a spokesman for the giant retailer. "Clearly this bill is about politics -- bad politics."

The debate over the Fair Share Health Care Fund Act, commonly known as the Wal-Mart bill, has dominated politics in the run-up to the General Assembly, with the retailer arguing that Democrats have unfairly singled out one company and union leaders arguing that workers deserve better treatment.

Murray's words were a rallying cry to the bill's supporters, who could vote as early as today on whether to overturn last year's veto by Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company