A group of California state lawmakers, led by Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, are calling for the legislature to require that the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) sell its 18.8 million shares of Wal-Mart stock, valued at about $1 billion.
“The Legislature needs to take a close look at how we put our money behind our values,” Lieber told the Associated Press. “Wal-Mart is making a big push to expand in many areas of our state. Given the impact on the health system, the question we need to ask is whether we want to invest in this expansion.”
With assets of $165 billion, CalPERS is the nation’s largest public pension fund. Its $1 billion in Wal-Mart stock represents about 0.4 percent of the company’s total capitalization.
Meanwhile, Senator Wes Chesbro, chair of the Senate Budget Committee, said he will hold hearings to consider whether Wal-Mart unfairly burdens the state’s treasury by failing to provide health insurance for its employees, many of whom rely on taxpayer-funded programs or unpaid visits to the emergency room.
“If Wal-Mart is not providing for their workers it puts more pressure on the system,” said Chesbro. “It puts pressure on other employers to drop their health care to be able to compete.”
Both moves come in the wake of the narrow defeat last week of Proposition 72, which would have required companies to pay 80 percent of the cost of providing health insurance to their employees. Wal-Mart contributed $650,000 to the campaign to defeat the ballot measure, which lost 51 to 49 percent.
The United Food and Commercial Workers union, one of the main sponsors of Proposition 72, said mandating health care coverage would put unionized grocery stores on a more equal footing with Wal-Mart. Television advertisements in support of the measure highlighted a UC-Berkeley study that found that Wal-Mart’s uninsured workers cost state taxpayers $32 million a year.
Other states are also beginning to consider the hidden public costs of Wal-Mart. In Washington state, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler is urging lawmakers to enact a similar measure requiring companies to provide health insurance.