Bills Aim To Target Health Benefits at Wal-Mart, Other Large Grocery Stores
Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (D) and other Democrats are pushing two bills to "pressur[e]" Wal-Mart, which is seeking to expand in California, "to improve health benefits for its employees -- or pay a steep price," the Los Angeles Times reports. The new effort "is part of a five-year push by Democrats to target Wal-Mart and large warehouse stores that do not hire unionized workers," the Times reports. The first bill (AB 2494), proposed by Assembly member Sally Lieber (D-San Jose) would require stores larger than 75,000 square feet that sell groceries to reimburse state and local governments for the cost of providing workers with public health coverage. The bill also would make it illegal to threaten or intimidate workers to prevent them from receiving health benefits. According to the Times, the second bill, sponsored by Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Van Nuys), would mandate that large stores "pay for expensive studies on whether they harm local economies by crushing competition and offering inadequate benefits to workers." Wal-Mart spokesperson Bob McAdam said that the legislation is "an attack by the unions through their friends in the Legislature on companies like ours." He added that Wal-Mart pays workers in California an average of $10.43 per hour and provides health benefits to 50% of its workers. Forty percent of Wal-Mart employees are covered through a spouse's job or other insurance. Bill Dombrowski, president of the California Retailers Association, which represents many grocery stores and other large retailers excluding Wal-Mart, said, "When the unions say jump, the lawmakers jump," adding, "I think the unions are introducing (the) bills as a platform to continue their fight with Wal-Mart." But Kevin Terpstra, a spokesperson for Bustamante, said, "This is an effort to make big-box retailers accountable and responsible and not shift their costs of doing business to the taxpayers." Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has not taken a position on the legislation but has said that "he opposes laws that put unnecessary restrictions on businesses," the Times reports. Both measures are awaiting their first hearings in the Assembly and the Senate (Salladay, Los Angeles Times, 4/7).
In related news, Inglewood residents voted "overwhelmingly" on Tuesday to reject Wal-Mart's plan to build a local Supercenter "without an environmental review or public hearings," the Times reports. The company said that the Supercenter would create new jobs, tax revenues and low prices. However, organized labor offered "fierce opposition" to the plan, insisting that "Wal-Mart's aggressive business practices and anti-union employment policies would result in lost jobs and depressed wages for millions of workers," the Times reports (Lin/Morin, Los Angeles Times, 4/7). A congressional report released in February said that the health benefits and pay available to Wal-Mart employees impose financial burdens on local governments, which ultimately provide workers with subsidized medical care and other taxpayer-supported services. The 22-page report, issued by the Democratic staff of the House Education and Workforce Committee, said that an average Wal-Mart store with 200 employees costs taxpayers $420,750 per year. Several California cities and counties have passed bans on construction of Wal-Mart Supercenters (California Healthline, 2/18).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.