Both chambers of the Maryland legislature have approved a bill that would require Wal-Mart to spend more on employee health insurance.
The legislation applies to companies with more than 10,000 employees in the state that do not already spend at least eight percent of their payroll on health benefits. Currently, all companies of that size exceed the spending floor, except for Wal-Mart.
Under the bill, if Wal-Mart opts not to increase benefits to that level, it would instead be required to pay an equivalent amount into the state’s Medicaid fund.
About a dozen states have recently reported that big-box employees and their dependents rely heavily on taxpayer-financed health insurance programs, such as Medicaid. (For a list, see Good Jobs First.) Most either do not qualify for their employer’s insurance benefits, or they cannot afford the high premiums.
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has vowed to veto the legislation. But supporters believe they can override his veto. The bill passed by more than two-thirds in the Senate. It was one vote short of that mark in the House, but supporters say several delegates absent from that vote will endorse the measure if it comes around a second time.
The governor will likely issue his veto after the legislative session has ended on April 11, giving Wal-Mart a reprieve until the legislature reconvenes in January.
The Maryland Chamber of Commerce plans intensive lobbying in the interim. Those rallying support for the bill include the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 400, which represents supermarket workers, and Giant, a unionized grocery store chain that says it spends 20 percent of its payroll on health benefits.
Wal-Mart has threatened to stop expanding in the state should the measure become law. A spokesperson said the company would have “to rethink its future growth in a state.”
Similar legislation has been introduced in several other states. A bill in Washington state would go even further. It would require companies with more than 50 employees to pay a fee that would cover 85 percent of the cost of enrolling employees in the state’s Basic Health Plan for low-income workers.