Human Capital & Careers

Maryland Raises the Health-Care Ante

The legislation has been unofficially dubbed the ''Wal-Mart Bill.''
Stephen TaubApril 7, 2005

Maryland state legislators are close to passing a law that would require companies with more than 10,000 employees to spend at least 8 percent of their payroll on health benefits or put the money directly into the state’s Medicaid program, according to the Washington Post.

Since the world’s largest retailer, which employs 15,000 people in the state, would be the only company that would be required to change its practices, the legislation has been unofficially dubbed the “Wal-Mart Bill.”

Johns Hopkins University, Giant Food, and Northrop Grumman Corp. also employ more than 10,000 Maryland residents, noted the Post, but they already meet the 8 percent threshold for for-profit employers or the 6 percent for nonprofits.

“We’re looking for responsible businesses to ante up…and provide adequate health care,” said Thomas M. Middleton, a Democratic state senator and the Finance Committee chairman, according to the paper. A similar bill has cleared the House of Delegates. The paper added that legislators expect to have an easy time reconciling their differences, but that Republican governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is expected to veto the bill.

According to the Post, the margin in the Senate vote would be sufficient to override a veto. Last month’s House vote last month fell one vote short of the number needed to override a veto, but the paper pointed out that several members were absent.

Wal-Mart has become a lightning rod for the pro-union, anti-big-business set. The retail giant has been accused of creating low-paying jobs with no benefits, driving mom-and-pop retailers (which often provide skimpy benefits themselves) out of business, and using exploited laborers overseas to make many of its products.

In response, the company invited a number of journalists to its Bentonville, Arkansas, headquarters to defend its way of doing business, which has not only created large numbers of jobs, but has also enriched shareholders as well as the union pension funds that have invested in its stock.

“We did a disservice to our employees and shareholders” by not speaking up, Wal-Mart chief executive officer H. Lee Scott Jr. told the gathering, according to the Post. “Many of our competitors, let’s face it, would like to continue to be rewarded for operating in ways that are less efficient.”