Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Wal-Mart Asked to Pay “Fair Share” in Maryland: The Maryland Senate yesterday voted 88-50 to override the governor’s veto of a Fair Share Health Care Plan that requires companies with more than 10,000 employees in the state to spend at least 8 percent of their payroll costs on health insurance.

There are four employers with more than 10,000 employees in the state of Maryland: Johns Hopkins University, the grocery chain Giant Food, the military contractor Northrop Grumman, and Wal-Mart. And there are no prizes for guessing which one in the only to spend less than 8 percent of its payroll on healthcare.

And so Wal-Mart spent heavily on lobbying to try to derail the legislation, which was overwhelmingly supported by Maryland voters: 66 percent told a Zogby poll that they wanted the Senate to override the veto.
Reactions from Wal-Mart supporters were predictable—and largely specious. House Republican leader George Edwards called the measure an unwarranted intrusion into the workings of the free market. But in a democracy, the marketplace of ideas is just as free and just as important as the marketplace of commerce, and Wal-Mart—despite spending a small fortune of lobbying—clearly lost in the marketplace of ideas.

Edwards also had a message for the company’s workers: “If you don't want to work for Wal-Mart, no one’s twisting your arms. Go somewhere else and work.” Of course, the same message now applies to Wal-Mart itself: “If you don’t want to provide minimal healthcare benefits for your employees, no one’s twisting your arms. Go somewhere else and sell.”

However, that could get increasingly difficult. At least 30 other states—tired of being asked to pick up the cost of uninsured workers—are reportedly considering legislation that would require large companies to pay their fair share. Victory in Maryland will add momentum to those efforts.

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