Wal-Mart Wiggles Around Worker Health
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Wal-Mart is famous for trying to circumvent local zoning regulations, but in Dunkirk, Maryland, the retailer got particularly creative. The small hamlet had a rule against stores larger than 75,000 feet--so the company proposed to build two Wal-Mart stores side by side. Fortunately, this bit of Amelia Bedelia literalism was emphatically rejected by a community outcry, and Wal-Mart backed down last week.
Meanwhile, also in Maryland, small-time whore Governor Ehrlich has, as expected, vetoed a bill to force Wal-Mart to provide decent health insurance to workers. Wake Up Wal-Mart has a letter you can send him, politely letting him know you think he is a putz (sorry, tell him you're disappointed). More importantly, since Democrats are threatening to override the veto, if you live in Maryland: call, write or visit your state representatives and make sure they do the right thing!
More and more states are considering similar legislation, thanks to a growing and coordinated national movement. A pending Pennsylvania bill would require firms with 50 or more workers to provide data on how many workers depend on public assistance for health care. Other states and localities debating Wal-Mart-inspired measures similar to Maryland's--requiring large companies to insure workers or contribute to Medicaid-- include New Jersey, Georgia, New York City, California, Montana and Connecticut. (To keep abreast of these developments and take action, sign up for updates at americansforhealthcare.org.)
If Wal-Mart find these bills irksome, and still doesn't want to provide decent health insurance for its workers, the company should lobby for national health insurance. That's unlikely, of course, but let's hope the political battle over Wal-Mart's benefits at least convinces Americans that our health is too important to be left to the whim of greedy employers.
Liza Featherstone is a New York City-based journalist. In 2002, she co-authored 'Students Against Sweatshops: The Making of a Movement' (Verso).