Debate Heats Up Over Wal-Mart's
Health Care Neglect
July 6, 2005
Should the taxes of hard-working Americans subsidize Wal-Mart and other wealthy corporations that refuse to pay decent healthcare benefits to their employees?
A growing number of leading Congressional and state legislators are supporting citizens who are saying, "No Way!"
On June 23, Senator Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., Senator Jon Corzine, D-N.J., and Representative Anthony D. Weiner, D-N.Y., introduced The Health Care Accountability Act in Congress.
The bill would require states to disclose which employers have a high number of employees on public health care assistance.
"Every member of Congress has health insurance because they understand the importance of providing for themselves and their families. If it's good enough for Congress...it's good enough for everyone, except for Wal-Mart," Kennedy said. "Every worker in America is paying a part of their taxes to pay for Wal-Mart."
The federal legislation is modeled on "Health Care Disclosure Act" legislation that has been introduced in 30 states.
Over 600,000 Wal-Mart workers are not covered by the employer's health care plan. Low wages make it nearly impossible for many to afford the relatively high premiums Wal-Mart charges for workers to participate in the corporation's health care plan. They are forced to turn to public health programs for low-income workers and their families. In addition, part-time workers must wait two years for coverage and are never eligible for family benefits.
A congressional study estimated that each Wal-Mart store costs taxpayers an average $108,000 a year for its workers' children who are enrolled in state children's health insurance programs.
Data collected from 15 states that require disclosure demonstrates that Wal-Mart is the biggest abuser of taxpayer-subsidized health care - costing taxpayers more than $210 million, including $61 million in Florida, $47 million in Tennessee, $32 million in California and $3 million in Massachusetts.
Wal-Mart is striking back at efforts to oppose greater accountability for its workers' health care.
In April, when the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill that would have forced Wal-Mart to spend more on employee health care, the powerful retailer made veiled threats to stop the planned construction of a large new warehouse in the state.
Maryland's Republican Governor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., held a press conference at the warehouse site, to announce his veto of the bill, saying that it would "hurt" businesses and lead to a loss of jobs in the state.
Maryland unions and their supporters were there to protest Ehrlich's action. Democrats, who hold the power in the state legislature, are threatening to override the veto. Similar battles are developing in other states.
International President Edwin D. Hill says, "The legislative efforts to shine a spotlight on Wal-Mart's neglect of its employees' needs are overdue. For far too long, large corporations have successfully pitted one state against another in a race to the bottom to attract employers."
"Wal-Mart made nearly $288 billion in revenue and $10 billion in profit in 2004. As more Americans come to realize that their tax dollars are subsidizing Wal-Mart's profits," says Hill, "the potential for winning better health care for Wal-Mart workers and bringing them into the labor movement is enhanced."
See how Wal-Mart's unaffordable health care coverage costs taxpayers.
Read the AFL-CIO report: Wal-Mart: An Example of Why Workers Remain Uninsured and Underinsured
Find out more about state Health Care Disclosure Acts
Read Family USA's report, Paying a Premium: The Added Cost of Care for the Uninsured
Learn what is wrong with our health care system and how to fix it
Get the facts on Wal-Mart