a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Fair Share Health Care veto override vote soon

Posted by Thomas Nephew on January 9th, 2006

Maryland’s Fair Share Health Care Act, passed last year, promised to require companies with over 10,000 employees in the state to pay at least 8% of payroll for health insurance, or pay the shortfall into the state’s Medicaid fund. The only company in the state that’s likely to be affected is Wal-Mart; while other large employers like Northrop Grumman and Johns Hopkins University pay decent health benefits, Wal-Mart — by its own admission — does not. From an internal memo leaked in December:

Wal-Mart’s critics can easily exploit some aspects of our benefits offering to make their case; in other words, our critics are correct in some of their observations. Specifically, our coverage is expensive for low-income families, and Wal-Mart has a significant percentage of associates and their children on public assistance. […]

In total, 46 percent of Associates’ children are either on Medicaid or are uninsured

Republican Governor Ehrlich vetoed the bill in May — in a notably disquieting scene in the Eastern Shore town of Princess Anne, with high ranking Wal-Mart executive Eduardo Castro-Wright delightedly looking on as protesters were literally silenced and forbidden to display signs by the local sheriff.

Now the long-awaited attempt by the Maryland legislature to override that veto is finally at hand. In December, the Washington Times’ S.A. Miller reported:

“The House leadership is considering the bill one of the top priorities, if not the top priority,” said [House Majority Whip Anthony] Brown, a Prince George’s Democrat who is also the running mate of gubernatorial candidate Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley. […]

Mr. Brown said he was “pretty confident” the General Assembly leadership will secure the requisite 85 House votes to override the Wal-Mart veto when the session convenes Jan. 12.

Sen. Andrew P. Harris, a Baltimore County Republican and the minority whip, expects the veto also to be overridden in the Senate, despite “having every Republican supporting the governor.”

The latest volley in the debate has come from the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, which released a legal opinion last Wednesday that the bill conflicts with the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Maryland Gazette.Net’s David Tallman explains:

Under ERISA, the federal government prevents states from requiring employers to provide a certain level of benefits.

“It has a fairly sweeping pre-emption to any state legislation covering employee benefit plans,” said Ronald W. Wineholt, the chamber’s vice president for government affairs.

Not everyone agrees:

Phyllis C. Borzi, who teaches law at the George Washington University Medical Center, said Smith’s analysis would have been valid 10 years ago, but since a 1995 decision, the Supreme Court has given states more control in regulating employee benefits.

Unless state laws specifically prescribe the kinds of benefits, they will not be pre-empted by ERISA, Borzi said.

So suddenly we’re for national employee benefit standards, are we? Let’s check back with the Maryland Chamber of Commerce when a national health care debate gets back in the headlines. The same warning can be given to Governor Ehrlich, who’s criticizing the Act as a new business tax. Yet it’s one that will be a drop in the bucket (politically, if not financially) compared to a national health care system — the chief alternative for providing decent, paid-up health care for those 46% of Wal-Mart “associate” kids. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that Ehrlich and his pals give a damn about them in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong — like Mark Schmitt, I’d prefer a national health care system to a patchwork, Rube Goldberg scheme stitching together Medicaid, employer based benefits, and the rest of it. But I don’t support making the perfect the enemy of the good. And as Schmitt observes, “You only get political consensus for public benefits when there’s pressure for employer-based benefits.”So in the meantime, I want the Fair Share Health Care bill. The Chamber of Commerce may hate it, but not all businesses do; one of the major reasons the bill passed was that Giant Foods CEO Dick Baird supported it — it levels the playing field between his company, paying decent wages and benefits, and the Medicaid-freeloaders at Wal-Mart. Public subsidies for working Americans should not be allowed to result in competition-altering wage and benefit pressures on unionized companies.

You can support the Fair Share Health Care bill by sending an e-mail to Maryland delegates and state senators via Maryland for Health Care.

UPDATE, 1/9: Wake-Up Wal-Mart provides links to Maryland legislators:

You can contact your legislators by email via this page, find out who your legislators are via this page, or you can talk to them directly by calling the Maryland General Assembly switchboard and asking for them. The phone number is 410-841-3000.

UPDATE, 1/12: Washington Post: Md. Senate Overrides Veto on ‘Wal-Mart Bill’. YAY!

9 Responses to “Fair Share Health Care veto override vote soon”

  1. New American Rebel Says:

    Are you on crack?! GIANT paying decent wages? Giant pays PEANUTS in comparison to Wal-Mart thanks to Giant’s union. Giant’s starting wage is $6.25 whereas Wal-Mart starts at $7.40.
    People like Wal-Mart because of it’s low prices. Ultimately, the CONSUMER, aka the little guy and the common man, end up paying ALL of a business’ expenses. So, who’s going to pay the cost of this new government mandated health-care cost by Wal-Mart? That’s right, the poor individuals who shop there. You dumb leftists are hitting your own constituents with this lame-brained legislation. I hope it can’t override the veto, but knowing MD’s raging communist legislature, it will.

  2. Thomas Nephew Says:

    The average hourly wage at Wal-Mart is $8.23 ($9.68 by Wal-Mart’s figures); either figure is below the Bureau of Labor Statistics figure of $10.61/hr for average grocery worker wages. (link). UFCW grocery workers earn about 30% more than their non-unionized counterparts. A 2003 NYTimes report indicates unionized grocery workers made an average of $13 an hour at that time, vs. a reported $8.50 for Wal-Mart.
    And these comparisons don’t address the issue at hand: the priced-out-of-reach health “benefits” at Wal-Mart vs. the more affordable health benefits for UFCW/Giant workers.
    Re who pays a business’ expenses: logically there are also owners/shareholders and management, both of who may earn less. At any rate, slaveholders could have used the same argument once upon a time; the question is, when do consumer benefits stop outweighing basic fairness towards the workers involved? Do low prices trump every other concern?
    I welcome pro-Wal-Mart comments — having a discussion is the whole idea — but kindly use more polite language next time you visit.

  3. New American Rebel Says:

    You side-stepped the issue on wages. We’re not talking about averages here. You’re comment was that GIANT, specifically, pays well. That’s a patently false statement and your averages in no way, shape, or form address my rebuttal. The truth of the matter is that Giant’s workers were utterly screwed by their union. They earn FAR less at the start than Wal-Mart workers. I’d wager that that difference holds true throughout the careers of those unfortunate enough to be self-relegated to those positions.
    If Giant workers earn less than Wal-Mart workers, then unless Giant health care benefits are veritably FREE, your line that Giant benefits are more afordable is also complete bunk!
    As for consumer benefits outweighing “basic fairness”, that’s a FREE MARKET decision. Vote with your feet, buddy, if you don’t like it. It’s up to the individual consumer to decide if low-prices trump other “concerns”, and it’s also up to the consumer to determine if he/she should even be concerned about something that businesses never should have been made responsible for in the first place, like health care benefits.
    What’s UNFAIR is having a tyrannical government (read the Maryland legislature) impose it’s leftist market decisions over the private property rights of a corporation. I don’t need Big Broter, or a bunch of clueless leftists, to tell me what I should be concerned about.

  4. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Well, better to talk about averages than starting wages, that’s a *really* meaningless measure. Those numbers were just the first I came across. A Washington Post article from May 23, 2005 says that for this region,
    Wal-Mart’s hourly wage in the Washington region is $10.08, while Giant’s and Safeway’s is $13.19, the companies said. With overtime, the figure rises to $16 an hour for the union chains. Giant’s and Safeway’s health care plans cost the chains $12,249 for every full-time employee, nearly twice what Wal-Mart pays for a typical family plan, the companies said. Wal-Mart’s cost for health benefits depend on the plan and deductible chosen by employees. While Wal-Mart workers have a 401(k) plan, with the chain matching up to 4 percent of employee contributions, depending on annual profit, Giant and Safeway are required by the union contract to pay into a more expensive pension plan.”
    So you’d lose that wager of yours. What’s more, of course, you knew that, or you wouldn’t have the low W-M prices to tout.
    Back to the slavery example; wouldn’t it have just been a “free market” to say, ‘you don’t like it, head North’? Or would you have been saying ‘I demand the right to own slaves here, too.’ The point being that countries and markets have rules that govern them, and when they decide to respect workers and poor people and slaves a bit more, that’s not tyranny, that’s progress.
    PS: you were more a little more polite this time, well done. But keep working at it. Act as if I were someone whose respect you want, and who you hope to persuade — “vote with your feet, buddy,” “clueless leftists” etc. doesn’t do the trick for me. But if you’re really just here to hear yourself shout, head somewhere else.

  5. Thomas Nephew Says:

    PPS: Thanks to a federal law Bush just signed, I may decide to press charges against you for annoying me anonymously:
    It’s no joke. Last Thursday, President Bush signed into law a prohibition on posting annoying Web messages or sending annoying e-mail messages without disclosing your true identity.
    🙂 Just kidding. I assume we agree that’s a stupid (and likely unconstitutional) law. So while I hope we become fast friends, you may stay anonymous and continue posting annoying comments if you like — that’ll show the tyrants! Pesky lefties in Congress and the White House, grumble grumble.

  6. New American Rebel Says:

    Anonymous? I’ve filled out every field that’s been asked of me, my name (I’m using a nom de plume), my e-mail address, and even my blog. I haven’t left the fields blank. As for Bush, that moderate has yet to veto any single piece of legislation. Bush is no conservative, and don’t think conservatives think he is a darling. We have him pegged for the moderate he is.
    Your 2nd set of statistics are FAR more on point than your first set because they relate directly to the companies we’re speaking of. However, starting wages ARE important. I WISH I made the $10 average for Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is a 2nd job for me to supplement my income. $10/hour is the wage that I’ve been used to earning since I worked during college. Also, I bet the Giant employees that have groused to me about their wages were making more than the pitiful $6.25 that they’re earning.
    In essence, my argument about starting wages and health care benefits stands. We have no idea how long it takes to achieve that average wage for either company. So, the fact still remains that even if Giant employees, in the long run, end up earning more, while they work their way up to the average, their health care benefits most likely eat up a greater percentage of their earnings. Granted, if it takes a Giant employee fewer years to reach the average wage, or even Wal-Mart’s average wage, then the Giant employee is better able to afford the health care benefits.
    There is another factor to the argument as well. Let’s be frank. Very few workers at Wal-Mart or Giant stay there long enough to reach the average wages you cited. Most of their workers are rather transitory. This being the case, starting wages become even more relevant. There’s no way that the transitory Giant employee can really afford health care because he never earns much more than the $6.25 starting wage. Granted, if health care is all you’re working for, I guess this is acceptable. But good luck also trying to pay more important things like rent, electricity, phone, etc.
    Another point that makes this law just ridiculous is that employers never should have been made responsible for health benefits in the first place. Only a crackpot leftist could ever conceive of such lunacy. Only believers in a nanny state would think it’s a good idea to make anyone other than the individual responsible for his own health care.
    On to the slavery argument. Unequivocably, slavery is not free market. Additionally, I was taught, in a public school, by a not-so-conservative teacher, that slavery was becoming economically inefficient anyway. Given a few decades, slavery would have died out anyway. (And had we Southerners been smart, we would have attacked the North in the 1850’s rather than waiting until the 1860’s. The war would have had an entirely differnt outcome had we attacked 10 years earlier.) You make the statement that, “markets have rules to govern them(selves), and when they decide to respect workers and poor people…that’s progress.” Therein lies my point. The MARKET should make its OWN decisions. Both employers and consumers can make choices. Yet you advocate the government making decisions FOR an employer and consumers and workers in this case. That’s not freedom, or progress, it’s tyranny. I oppose government tyranny. Everyone should.
    As for persuading you. In my YEARS of debating liberals, I’ve found each and every one of them to be completely impervious to logic and irredeemable. Either they are completely incapable of grasping the free market, and seeing the damage command economies do, OR they just don’t care and want what they want. So, I don’t expect you to see the light. You never will.

  7. Thomas Nephew Says:

    I said “countries and markets”, and meant that countries set the ground rules for markets to live within; when that’s done by an above-board democratic process, that’s not tyranny, that’s its opposite. To rely on just “the market” invites the kind of tyranny-by-checkbook and bank account that I fear; the rich and the corporations will always win that game.
    You say Southerners would have been smart to attack the North 10 years earlier than they did, and I take it you think it’s a shame they weren’t that smart. I guess you’re right: I’ll never see the light. Nice talking with you.

  8. New American Rebel Says:

    You STILL can’t stay on topic. We’re not talking about federal law here. We’re talking about a State turning more of its economy into a command economy. The feds are supposed to regulate solely interstate commerce, but the communist FDR scared the Supreme Court into ignoring and re-writing the Constitution in the Wickard v. Filliburn case. Now, since Articel 1, Section 8 means nothing anymore, the feds power to regulate the economy is veritably unlimited.
    As for the States, they, unlike the feds, have the police power to regulate for the health, safety, welfare, and morals of the people. However, just because they CAN regulate, doesn’t mean they SHOULD regulate. When government substitutes its own judgment for those of market participants, they create inefficiency and impose costs on the public. When they do so, they impede the creation of wealth (the exchange of the fruits of labor for the goods and services one desires). In doing so, the State ensures that its citizens will struggle even harder to make themselves self-sufficient. This creates a dependency on the State…which is EXACTLY the goal of the left.

  9. New American Rebel Says:

    P.S. YOU, as an individual, have a right to try to convince Wal-Mart to adopt your views, by picketing Wal-Mart and refusing to shop there, writing management, etc. When you can’t get your way through private action, and you resort to government tyranny, you’re not just oppressing Wal-Mart, you’re oppressing everyone who disagrees with you as well.

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