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NY County: Wal-Mart Must Pay
Share of Worker Health Care

October 7, 2005

The latest grassroots battle to require low-paying big-box retail stores to provide employees health care coverage is being waged in a populous Long Island county.

In a lopsided September 27 vote, the Republican-dominated Suffolk County Legislature came down 17-1 in favor of the Fair Share for Health Care Act, after a campaign by labor and community groups.   The law, which must be signed by the county executive to become effective, would force large stores like Wal-Mart, Target and Kmart to provide health care to their workers.   Sponsored by legislature member William Lindsay, former business manager of Hauppauge, NY, IBEW Local 25, the law would benefit 12,000 low-wage retail workers across Suffolk County.  

IBEW Local 1381 Business Manager Don Daly (forefront) anxiously awaits the vote along with other union members.

“I think the legislators saw that county tax money was indirectly funding medical insurance for the retail employees,” said Hicksville, New York, Local 1381 Business Manager Don Daley.   “The burden was being passed on to the citizens.”

Daley spoke in favor of the legislation before a packed house at the county meeting before the vote.   He was joined by more than 50 union members, including members of IBEW Local 25 and Local 1049, Long Island, as well as other unions from the Long Island Federation of Labor and religious and community leaders from Jobs with Justice.   Similar proposed legislation has met with resistance in other areas, so such a law has not yet been implemented.   Bills were passed by the state of Maryland and New York City, but both were vetoed.   The Suffolk measure won by such a wide margin, a veto could be easily overridden.

Community and labor groups continue to press County Executive Steve Levy, who is a Democrat, to sign the bill.   Nonunion retailers are fighting it just as vigorously, and are expected to sue if he does.

Last week, leaders from the L.I. Fed. went into County Executive Levy's office to urge him to sign the bill.  Bruce Both from UFCW Local 1500, Nick LaMorte from CSEA, Ralph Ranghelli from IBEW Local 1049 and John Durso, L.I. Fed. President had a productive meeting but still urge all of us to call County Executive Levy at (631) 853-4666 to sign the bill.

“There is no question in my mind that this bill will pass and will be challenged in the courts because this has overwhelming implications,” said Local 1049 Business Manager Ralph Ranghelli.   “But I’m proud we got this far.”

Wal-Mart is the largest employer in the United States, with 1.2 million workers, but only half of those can afford the employer’s health care insurance.   A 2004 study by the University of California found Wal-Mart costs state taxpayers $86 billion a year in public assistance to its workers.   It has been reported that Wal-Mart’s personnel offices encourage employees to apply for charitable and public assistance.  

“Wal-Mart has profited off the public sector to the tune of billions of dollars,” said Paul Tonna, a Republican Suffolk County legislator.

Bill sponsor Legislator Bill Lindsay
(D-Holbrook) addresses the public
before the legislature called a vote.

The Suffolk bill would mandate retail companies meeting size and revenue standards to contribute at least $3 for each hour an employee works toward their health coverage.   Employers would be prohibited from passing that charge on to workers.  

“Big box stores are undermining health care delivery system,” Ranghelli said.   “Our hospitals are inundated with the uninsured.”

History was  Made.

A letter from IVP Don Siegel

On Tuesday, September 27th, over 50 union members from 15 different unions packed the house at the Suffolk County Legislature in Riverhead to urge the Legislature to pass the Fair Share for Health Care Act.  Organized labor was joined by a dozen religious and community leaders from Jobs With Justice to help pass the bill which would mandate that large retail companies like Wal-Mart to provide health care for their employees.  The press and media were there; News 12, TV 55, Long Island Business News, the New York Times and Newsday. Various radio stations like B-103, WLIU & WALK announced that this historic legislation would benefit 12,000 low wage retail workers across Suffolk County.

By a vote of 17-1, Suffolk County is the first county in the United States to pass this bill. For months the entire Long Island Labor Movement has been lobbying the legislature and meeting with the Food Industry to make this bill work.  All that is needed now is for the   County Executive to sign the bill. So contact County Executive Steve Levy at (631) 853-4666 and ask him to help us improve the lives of 12,000 workers in Suffolk County and sign the Fair Share for Health Care Act.


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