With the federal government content to let Wal-Mart run amok, it has been left
up to the states to protect workers from the retail behemoth's excesses. This
past Saturday, April 9, Maryland showed America's largest corporation who's boss.
Maryland's House of Delegates voted 82 to 48 to approve a bill that would require
all businesses in the state with more than 10,000 employees to spend at least
8 percent of their payroll on health benefits for workers (or, alternatively,
donate the funds to the state's Medicaid program). Wal-Mart, with its 15,000
employees, is the only such company that does not already spend 8 percent on
health care for employees--and thus, the direct target of the bill. Spearheaded
by Maryland for Health Care, the legislation was supported by a coalition of
over 1,000 organizations representing Maryland's health, business, and community
"We're looking for responsible businesses to ante up...and provide adequate
health care," said Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles). Republican Governor
Robert Ehrlich Jr., who is expected to veto the bill, lashed out at Democratic
legislators. Cowed by Rush Limbaugh's criticisms of the measure, Ehrlich claimed
the bill had made a mockery of Maryland. [Note to Marylanders: when your Governor
cares more about Rush's opinion than yours, you're in trouble. Thankfully though,
with a wide majority of the Senate having approved the bill, Ehrlich's veto
doesn't stand a chance.]
Wal-Mart's critics hope that other states will follow Maryland's lead. The
Center for Community and Corporate Ethics, headed by former director of the
Democratic Party's Senatorial Campaign Committee Andy Grossman, plans to distribute
copies of Maryland's Fair Share Health Care Act to state legislators in all
50 states. Already, seven states are considering similar measures.
The surge of anti-Wal-Mart activity has pushed the corporation into PR crisis
mode. On April 6, in its latest attempt to soften its image, Wal-Mart invited
over seventy journalists to its corporate headquarters in Arkansas. And on Tuesday--responding
to a newly-formed coalition of environmental and labor activists--Wal-Mart announced
that it would donate $35 million over the next decade to the National Fish and
Wildlife Coalition's preservation efforts.
Don't count on Wal-Mart to become another Ben and Jerry's. But, with continued
pressure from activists and legislative action from the states, America's corporations
could face a future in which social responsibility is no longer optional.
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Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker,
and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.