Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Long Struggle To Provide Health Care Benefits From Wal-Mart

It has been a long struggle to force Wal-Mart into a compliance to provide at least 8% of it's company payrolls for health care benefits for it's employees in Maryland. The state legislature of Maryland finally was able to overide the veto of Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who vetod the bill previously after Wal-Mart lobby efforts.

According to research statistics provided by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, in the U.S. a full 97.5% of all unionized workers have health insurance benefits. And 85% of all nonunion workers do as well. But for Wal-Mart employees this figure drops down to less than half of all workers. In Maryland, Wal-Mart may claim a slightly better figure than some states of employees with health care insurance of some type, however for the families of Wal-Mart employees in Maryland around 46% have no health insurance or may have to depend on public welfare health services.

In Maryland, only about 5 to 6% of company payrolls are allocated towards providing health insurance, which compares poorly with all other large employers in the state who average between 10 to 20% of company payroll totals. The Maryland bill mandating just 8% of company payrolls towards health care insurance means that just about $135 per month for full-time employees will be mandated. This will only buy a high deductable plan, with few real benefits to workers, but is certainly far better than no health care benefits at all.

As timid as this minimum plan for Maryland Wal-Mart stores is, some "conservative" blogs all are up in arms over this very bare bones proposal. One "conservative" blog claimed the Maryland bill was "socialistic" and other nonsense 1950's Joe McCarthy rehortic, and claimed that "jobs will be lost". Yet absolutely no proof of this is to found. Once again "conservatives" claim that a strong business community is the key to lifting Americans from poverty, but when push comes to shove, "conservatives" defend low wages, oppose employer paid health care benfits, oppose employer pension plans, and would drive down American wages towards low wage nations if given the chance. U.S. workers already earn a wage that is more than $17,000 a year below the average wage in Germany, and thousands below the wages paid in the U.K, France, Japan and even Ireland.

Wal-Mart seems to have money to spend on everything except good wages or employee health care benefits. Wal-Mart heiress, Alice Walton plowed huge donations into the Progress For America PAC, and helped to plaster the airwaves with many ads to put probig business advocates John Roberts and Sam Alito on the U.S. Supreme Court. John Roberts was a former lobbyist for coal mining, Toyota and Chrysler business interests, who fought against strip mining laws and other environmental regulations. Judge Sam Alito has opposed the interests of consumers or individuals and workers in 85% of all of his courtroom decisions. Wal-Mart has the nations single larest PAC, with millions to spend to lobby legislators. In Maryland, both the Governor and state legislators were threatened with hollow Wal-Mart arguments that jobs will be lost unless they oppose the bare bones proposal to mandate that a mere 8% of Wal-Mart company payrolls go towards employee health care costs. There are many Wal-Mart regional managers who draw in yearly salaries of hundreds of thousands a year. Wal-Mart seems to have money for just about anything except for paying wages above the minimum wage for many employees, leaving many dependent on food stamps, public health care programs, and other public welfare benefits, living below the poverty line standard for working families.

When Republican Governor, Robert Ehrlich was to veto the Wal-Mart health care bill pased by the Maryland legislature back in June, a major Wal-Mart executive flew in for the ceremony and even hired a high school band to play patriotic songs, while the Republican Governor conspired with these greedy company to keep thousands of Maryland Wal-Mart workers without the health care insurance benefits that every other large employer in Maryland provides. Even with the new override of the governor's veto, Wal-Mart employees will still be stuck in a life of low wages and low health care benefits. Many will continue to depend on the taxes of other workers to provide food stamps, public health care or other public welfare services to lowly paid Wal-Mart employees. The Maryland bill is a timid step in the right direction towards offering a better life for Wal-Mart employees and their families, but the trend is clear, low wage workers are used as a supply and demand commodity by wealthy corporations to build lavish lifestyles of luxury and private jets for the management, and little but poverty, food stamps or public health welfare programs for the workers. Wal-Mart is the worst thing to happen to workers since slavery or child labor.

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