Wal-Mart's Agenda

Friday, January 13, 2006

Last year the Maryland General Assembly passed the Fair Share Health Care Fund Act, which would have required Maryland's biggest companies to pay their fair share of their workers' health care costs. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) vetoed the bill. This year Wal-Mart mobilized an army of lobbyists to fight the bill ["Md. Bill on Health Benefits Triggers a Deluge of Lobbying and Attention," Metro, Jan. 10]. It wanted other state legislatures to see the lengths to which it would go. Yesterday, the Maryland legislature overrode the governor's veto.

To most Marylanders, it makes sense that the state's biggest employers should have to ensure that their workers can get affordable health insurance.

More than half of Wal-Mart's 1.3 million employees nationwide aren't covered by the company's health insurance, pushing thousands of them and their children into Medicaid programs. Wal-Mart raked in $10 billion in profits last year yet doesn't offer decent health insurance to its workers.

Mr. Ehrlich said the bill was bad for business, and The Post ["Beating Up on Wal-Mart," editorial, Jan. 12] echoed that charge. But what could be worse for Maryland businesses than picking up Wal-Mart's health care tab? And what could be worse for companies that provide good health care than having to compete with giant companies that won't pay their fair share? Leaders in 32 other states are introducing similar bills this month in their legislatures.

Wal-Mart is promising big changes in its health care coverage, but a secret memo from its Arkansas headquarters surfaced last year that showed that company executives want to cut experienced workers because they're too expensive, to weed out unhealthy workers and to hire more part-timers.

Wal-Mart also was threatening to kill off its planned Princess Anne distribution center if the Fair Share bill became law, but it is plowing ahead with efforts to add to the 52 stores it has in Maryland.

Wal-Mart complains that it's being singled out in Maryland, but Wal-Mart isn't the only company affected by the Fair Share Health Care bill. It's just the only company that thinks its workers don't deserve any better.




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