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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Hooray for the State of Maryland!

Big, rich companies like Wal-Mart should not expect US taxpayers to foot the bill for their parsimony. All workers deserve a living wage with adequate access to health care. Anything less is to deny human dignity.

Maryland OKs 'Wal-Mart bill'

Maryland first to OK 'Wal-Mart bill' By Stephanie Armour, USA TODAY
Fri Jan 13, 6:40 AM ET

The Maryland General Assembly became the first state legislature in the nation Thursday to approve legislation forcing Wal-Mart (WMT) to pay more for its employee health care, potentially paving the way for other states to follow suit.

The bill, which passed despite a veto by Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr., requires employers with more than 10,000 workers to spend at least 8% of their payroll on employee health care or else pay into a fund for the uninsured. At this time, only Wal-Mart is affected by the legislation.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Sarah Clark said the company is exploring options to challenge the law, which takes effect in January 2007.

"Wal-Mart does believe everyone should have access to affordable health care, and this legislation does nothing to accomplish this goal," Clark says, adding, "This was about partisan politics. ... The General Assembly took a giant step backwards."

The legislation could prod other states into passing similar so-called Wal-Mart bills. Anti-Wal-Mart groups are working to get state legislatures across the USA to pass similar acts.

The legislation is the latest salvo in the growing fight by labor-union-supported anti-Wal-Mart groups, which are pressuring the discount retail giant into expanding health care coverage for its more than 1.2 million U.S. workers.

"This opens the way for dozens of states across the country to follow suit, and that's clearly a chilling message to Wal-Mart," says Tracy Sefl, a spokeswoman at Wal-Mart Watch, a Washington-based group focused on the megaretailer.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney praised the Maryland action. "What the Maryland victory shows is that the tide is turning, because working people are not just fed up, they are ready to get active to set our country in a different direction, one state at a time," he said in a statement after the vote.

Wal-Mart officials have said they are being singled out because of their large size, which means they are more likely to have more employees on public health assistance. Over the past four decades, Wal-Mart has grown from a small chain to a global enterprise with 5,000 stores in 10 countries.

"This will accomplish very little, and this totally misses the mark, which is to take appropriate steps to slow the kind of double-digit health care increases we've seen," says Bruce Josten, executive vice president of government affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "This is so far off the mark it's incredible."

Wal-Mart says it insures more than 600,000 associates and that more than three-fourths of Wal-Mart associates have health insurance.

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