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PSN on February 28, 2006 - 12:53pm
Following Maryland's adoption of a Fair Share Health Care Act requiring that large employers adequately fund employee health care or help shoulder the burden of Medicaid costs, similar efforts are afoot across the nation and Wal-Mart, one of the primary targets of the legislation, is moving into full-court press mode attempting to find ways to convince the public that it isn't shirking its responsibilities to its employees.
Wal-Mart Watch, an organization dedicated to holding the corporate giant responsible, is tracking efforts to pass similar legislation in thirty other states where bills have been introduced. They focus in particular on efforts in Connecticut, New Hampshire, Washington, and West Virginia. The legislation got stuck in both Washington and Colorado despite widespread support. In Washington, the bill was held up this year by the Democratic Speaker of the House, but Governor Christine Gregoire has pledged that it will return in 2007. In Colorado, supporters of the measure have vowed to work for passage in 2007 when the specter of a veto won't be hanging over the head of the legislation. In New Hampshire, the proposal died in the House.
The push to hold big employers accountable when it comes to employee health care has already paid huge dividends for the progressive agenda. A Maryland poll conducted by Wake-Up Wal-Mart found that 66% of voters wanted the legislature to get the bill passed despite the Governor's objections. And the pressure resulting from the news stories has Wal-Mart scrambling. As Bloomberg reported recently, Wal-Mart is rolling out more health care options to its workers, largely because of "criticism that it has failed to provide adequate health benefits."
Unsurprisingly, Wal-Mart is not accepting the Maryland bill without a fight. Already, a lawsuit has been filed in Maryland by RILA, a corporate trade association backed by, among others, Wal-Mart. The lawsuit argues that the legislation violates ERISA, a federal law preventing states from regulating employer health benefits.
The basic fact is that Wal-Mart is absolutely terrified about being required to provide first-world level benefits for their employees and is pulling out all the stops -- lawsuits and misinformation campaigns -- to block advances on this level.