OCA Calls on Consumers to Boycott Wal-Mart for Degrading Organic Standards Organic Consumers Association, Jan 17, 2007 Straight to the Source
Six months after OCA requested in a widely circulated "Open Letter" that Wal-Mart stop selling Horizon and Aurora Organic milk coming from intensive confinement factory farm dairies, and stop importing cheap organic foods and ingredients from China and Brazil that could and should be supplied by North American organic farmers, the nation's largest and most ethically-challenged retailer has done what you would expect, nothing.
In addition, as the Cornucopia Institute has pointed out over the past two months, Wal-Mart continues to post signs in its stores that mislead consumers into believing that non-organic items are actually organic. Meanwhile Wal-Mart's friends in the USDA's National Organic Program have, of course, done nothing.
Wal-Mart's entry into the organic and fair trade sector has generated much fanfare and publicity, at great benefit to a company seeking to re-brand itself in the wake of broad-based criticism of its business practices. While seeking to improve both its reputation and bottom line by moving into the organic and fair trade market, Wal-Mart has systematically lowered standards for these products by squeezing suppliers and sourcing supplies from factory farms and overseas suppliers. Currently, the demand for organic products outweighs the supply, and Wal-Mart's entry into the market has only exacerbated the problem.
The popularity of organics for consumers has in large part grown from the knowledge among purchasers that products they purchased were raised and produced in a safe, humane and environmentally friendly manner and in many cases were produced locally or regionally. The industrialization of organics by companies like Wal-Mart threatens the ability of consumers to be certain that products they are purchasing are indeed raised and produced according to true organic standards.
Basta! Enough is enough. It is now obvious that organic consumers and anyone who cares about health, justice, and sustainability should stop "bargain shopping" for organic products at Wal-Mart and its Big Box competitors. Breaking the chains of mindless consumerism means taking into consideration that where you buy an organic or green product is just as important as what you buy. And please keep in mind that boycotting Wal-Mart is not just a symbolic gesture. Over the past year, as OCA and hundreds of other groups have shined the light on America's retail Death Star, Wal-Mart has lost somewhere between two and eight percent of its former customers, sending tremors through Wall Street and causing the company to lose sales and profits. In countries like Germany and South Korea, consumer rejection has forced Wal-Mart to close down its operations entirely.
So today and everyday please boycott Wal-Mart and the other Big Box chains. Whenever possible buy your organic and fair trade products from your local co-op or independently owned natural food store, or from your local farmers directly. For more information on where you can find organic and fair trade products in your local area, go to: http://www.organicconsumers.org/btc/buyingguide.cfm
As part of our national "Hope for the Holidays" campaign, we are bringing together faith leaders, community leaders, civil rights leaders, and grassroots supporters in cities and towns all across the country to call on Wal-Mart to be a more responsible, moral employer.
You live within 15 miles of one of our local candlelight vigils. So, please join us and light a candle for all of Wal-Mart’s employees and their families this holiday season.
This is a time of year to remember and embrace the best of our values. It is a time to reflect upon our lives, our families, and the solemn responsibility we all have to improve the world for everyone.
Let’s remind Wal-Mart that our faith teaches us to do "what is right and just."
In the common ground of all of our faiths, our candlelight vigils will call on Wal-Mart to put families first, to change for the better, and to embrace the simple fact that "with great wealth comes great responsibility."
Join us in calling on Wal-Mart to live up to that responsibility.
WAL-MART, HANES, J.C. PENNEY AND PUMA SWEATSHOP SCANDAL
Major U.S. clothing companies continue to exploit children in overseas sweatshops. In the latest in a series of reports from the National Labor Committee (NLC), brand name Wal-Mart, Hanes, J.C. Penney, and Puma clothes have been traced to a Bangladesh sweatshop. An estimated 200 children, some under eleven years of age, are being forced to work over 100 hours per week and are being paid six and a half cents per hour to make these clothes. "It is time for these U.S. companies to act immediately, today, to guarantee that this does not happen and that the children are returned to school," said Charles Kernaghan, director of the NLC. Check out OCA's Clothes for a Change campaign to learn more about organic and fair trade clothes and textiles. http://www.organicconsumers.org/clothes/
As Wal-Mart begins bolster their selection, advocates worry about quality
The Associated Press
Updated: 6:09 p.m. ET May 30, 2006
SAN JUAN BAUTISTA, Calif. - Earthbound Farm’s fields of organic baby spinach and romaine lettuce are a living symbol of the organic food movement’s explosive growth in recent years.
What started two decades ago as a three-acre roadside farm in this valley 90 miles south of San Francisco has grown into the country’s largest grower of organic produce, with more than 100 types of fruits and vegetables on 28,000 acres in the U.S. and abroad.
Earthbound’s extraordinary growth is only the most visible example of how organic farming is changing. Small family farms created as an alternative to conventional agriculture are increasingly giving way to large-scale operations that harvest thousands of acres and market their produce nationwide.
And with Wal-Mart, Safeway, Albertson’s and other big supermarket chains expanding their organic offerings, the transformation may only be in its early stages.
“I don’t think (consumers) have any idea just how industrialized it’s becoming,” said Michael Pollan, a journalism professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” “There are some real downsides to organic farming scaling up to this extent.”
Pollan and others worry that the expansion of “Big Organic” will lower food quality, weaken standards and hurt small family farms. As organic goes mainstream, critics say, the movement loses touch with its roots as an eco-friendly system that offers a direct connection between consumers and the land where their food is grown.
Byron Albano, who handles marketing for Cuyama Orchards, his parents’ 210-acre organic apple orchard in Santa Barbara County, worries the entry of Wal-Mart and other supermarket chains will “lead to organic produce becoming a commodity with prices being dictated by those buyers.”
Other experts say the trend simply gives more consumers access to high-quality food and keeps prices down. It’s also good for the environment because fewer pesticides and fertilizers will pollute the air and water.
Despite its size, Earthbound Farm follows the same practices as smaller organic farms. It rotates crops to enrich the soil and avoid disease, doesn’t use chemical fertilizers or herbicides, and brings in syrphid flies and other beneficial insects to control pests.
Earthbound’s bagged salads and other organic products are now sold in more than 80 percent of U.S. supermarkets.
“Earthbound Farm’s mission is to bring the benefits of organic to as many people as possible,” said Myra Goodman, who founded the company with her husband Drew.
Organic food only makes up 2.5 percent of U.S. food sales, but it’s the fastest growing segment of the market. Sales reached nearly $14 billion last year, up from $6 billion five years earlier, according to the Organic Trade Association in Greenfield, Mass.
“Consumers see organic products as fitting in with a healthful life,” OTA spokeswoman Holly Givens said.
To meet growing demand from increasingly health conscious consumers and supermarket chains, farmers and ranchers are scaling up production and converting land to meet organic standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
According to the USDA’s rules, organic produce must be grown without synthetic fertilizers or bioengineering and animals raised without antibiotics or growth hormones. A separate industry of government-approved organic certifiers has emerged to inspect farms and food handlers to ensure they conform. Some advocates don’t think the rules go far enough and are asking for a requirement that dairy cows be pasture-fed, not raised on feedlots.
The latest USDA survey in 2003 found that 2.2 million acres of farmland and ranchland had been certified organic, but that number is believed to have risen substantially since then, said Jake Lewin, director of marketing at California Certified Organic Farmers, one of the country’s largest certifiers.
Concerns about the increasing commercialism of organic farming reached a new level this spring when Wal-Mart announced it was joining other major grocery chains in ramping up organic sales.
Some small farmers worried that the world’s biggest retailer, notorious for squeezing suppliers to get the lowest price, would push them out of business.
Other advocates welcome the news, saying growers would benefit from rising demand and consumers would see prices drop. In the past, organic food has been associated with high-end retailers like the Whole Foods Market supermarket chain.
“It will bring organic to a whole new economic stratum that our farmers’ markets and natural food stores have been unable to reach,” said Bob Scowcroft, executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, Calif.
But others worry that as more farmers shift to organic production to meet the needs of big supermarket chains, they will drive down food quality and weaken standards.
For example, some suppliers have been marketing organic soybeans and other products grown overseas, where it’s harder to determine whether farms meet U.S. standards, said Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association, in Finland, Minn.
“We’re heading for a consumer crisis over standards and the outsourcing of organic products from overseas,” Cummins said. “There will be continuing conflict between consumers, the USDA and companies not playing by the rules.”
UC Berkeley’s Pollan encourages environmentally minded consumers to shop at their local farmers’ market. When they buy organic products in supermarkets, those items must be refrigerated and often transported long distances, consuming as much fossil fuel as the conventional food system, he said.
“If organic means anything, it should mean that this food has a lighter environmental footprint,” Pollan said. “It’s really the supermarket and the supermarket shopper that drive the industrialization of organic.”
But Earthbound’s Myra Goodman said organic farmers can’t be expected to solve the problems of the U.S. food distribution system. Her company has a good relationship with Wal-Mart, whose organic expansion plans represent “the democratization of organics.”
“The vast majority of food is bought in supermarkets,” Goodman said. “Those people should have an organic choice.”
Shopping in a Target store, you know you’re not in Wal-Mart. But the differences may be mostly skin deep.
Targets are spaciously laid out and full of attractive displays and promotions. While many people associate Wal-Mart with low-income, rural communities perhaps dominated by a prison or power plant, life-size photos throughout Target stores remind you that their customers are a lively, beautiful cast of multi-cultural hipsters.
“Their image is more upscale, more urban and sophisticated, sort of a wannabe Pottery Barn,” said Victoria Cervantes, a hospital administrator and documentary-maker in Chicago who regularly shops at Target. “I’m not sure if their customers really are more upscale. But that’s the image they’re going for. They have a very good PR campaign.”
In contrast to this image, however, critics say that in terms of wages and benefits, working conditions, sweatshop-style foreign suppliers, and effects on local retail communities, big box Target stores are very much like Wal-Mart, just in a prettier package.
Of more than 1,400 Target stores employing more than 300,000 people nationwide, not one has a union. Employees at various stores say an anti-union message and video is part of the new-employee orientation. At stores in the Twin Cities, where Target is headquartered, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union Local 789 has been trying for several years to help Target employees organize, with little luck.
“People ask what the difference between Wal-Mart and Target is,” said UFCW organizer Bernie Hesse. “Nothing, except that Wal-Mart is six times bigger. The wages start at $7.25 to $7.50 an hour [at Target]. They’ll say that’s a competitive wage, but they can’t say it’s a living wage. We know a lot of their managers are telling people, ‘If we find out you’re involved in organizing a union you’ll get fired.’”
Wal-Mart has about 3,800 stores nationwide and another 2,600 worldwide, employing about 1.6 million people. Target plans to open at least 600 more stores by 2010, for a total of about 2,000 in 47 states. Like Wal-Mart, a typical Target sells a wide range of consumer goods including clothing, household items, office supplies, toys, sports equipment, furniture, art, and electronics; and the stores often have photo laboratories and pharmacies. About 160 SuperTargets nationwide also sell “upscale” groceries, as the company’s website describes them, and often contain banks, Starbucks, and Pizza Hut Express outlets. Total revenue was up 12.3 percent in 2005 – $52.6 billion compared to $46.8 billion in 2004.
A survey by the UFCW found that starting wages are similar in Targets and Wal-Marts -- possibly higher overall at Wal-Marts – and that Target benefits packages are often harder to qualify for and less comprehensive. (Target’s media relations department refused to comment on its wages and benefits policies; individual wages and benefits policies are not included in their annual report.)
“We know that Target and Wal-Mart are constantly checking each other out and seeing how cheap they can get by,” says a UFCW statement on the website Targetunion.org, urging Target employees around the country to post their wages.
A Target employee who asked that his name and store location be kept secret said he can barely make ends meet on his salary of $8.40 an hour.
“After three years, I have received less than $1 an hour in raises. I started at $7.65,” said the worker, adding that he does love his job because of camaraderie with his co-workers. “We are never compensated and rarely even recognized for meeting our goals.”
The starting wage he describes would put a single parent with two kids working full time at Target just slightly above the poverty line; someone with more children or working fewer hours would fall below the poverty line.
Compare that to Target CEO Robert Ulrich, who earned $23.1 million in 2005, according to Forbes, making him the second-highest paid CEO in the retail sector. That’s more than 1300 times as much as the worker we spoke to.
Sweat on the Racks?
Meanwhile a glance at labels on a few racks of stylish $20 cardigans and capri pants shows that, like Wal-Mart and most major clothing retailers, Target itself sources its products in India, Indonesia, Guatemala, Mexico, Bangladesh, Kenya, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia and other low-wage, developing countries.
In October 2005 representatives of a Mexican labor federation protested outside a Bronx Target to call attention to alleged child labor and illegal worker lockouts at a Mexican factory that supplies the store’s Halloween costumes.
“The way the global garment industry is, there are so few factories that respect workers’ rights that there is no way Target gets its clothes from workplaces where workers’ rights are being respected,” said Allie Robbins, national organizer of the group United Students Against Sweatshops.
Race to the Bottom
Target doesn’t differ from most major clothing vendors; you usually have to seek out small specialty companies to find union-made, American-made textiles. But as one of the country’s major retailers, Target is an industry leader, fostering and profiting from the U.S.’s general culture of consumerism: We buy, buy, buy at ever lower prices in a market system sustained by very low-paid, non-union workforces in impoverished countries.
Even as American consumerism thrives, however, there is growing public awareness and critique of the problems it spawns. Wal-Mart is becoming a lightning rod for the public’s increasing dissatisfaction and animosity. A recent study by the University of Massachusetts at Lowell showed that 63 percent of people would oppose a Wal-Mart opening in their community. Groups such as Wal-Mart Watch, several documentarians have harshly critiqued Wal-Mart’s working conditions and its effects on communities and international labor standards.
But somehow, perhaps because of its relative small size compared to Wal-Mart, Target has largely avoided negative publicity.
In fact, it benefits from anti-Wal-Mart anger, a fact that isn’t lost on company officials.
Media reports describe Target executives booing and hissing at a Wal-Mart logo during sales meetings and calling it the “evil empire.” While communities often fight tooth and nail against new Wal-Marts, residents usually welcome Targets, as local governments offer the corporation generous tax breaks and subsidies to locate in their area.
That is what happened last fall in West St. Paul, Minn., where a new Target reaped $731,000 in local tax breaks, while 30 miles away, Ham Lake was fighting Wal-Mart’s efforts to open a superstore. The Target in downtown Minneapolis received $68 million in public subsidies, according to the Star Tribune newspaper. In Chicago in 2004, a city-wide coalition formed to oppose two proposed Wal-Marts and the fight roiled the city council for months. Meanwhile at least three new Target stores have been built in the metro area in the last several years.
Target definitely works hard on its image. Last summer it became the first company to sponsor an entire issue of The New Yorker, with 17 pages of ads. With a 2005 advertising budget of $1.028 billion, it regularly takes out full page ads in major daily papers and magazines, promoting the company’s products, and sophisticated image as well as its charity work. The company’s website says that 96 percent of Americans recognize the Target logo, “more than the Swoosh or Apple.” Unlike Wal-Mart’s low-budget, cluttered decor, Target sports artsy, larger-than-life photos of everything from cleaning products to desserts to women in lingerie. It is the exclusive marketer of specialty items such as the Roots “retro-futurism” official gear for the 2006 Winter Olympics. Target’s website notes that its average consumer has a median household income of $55,000, and 43 percent have completed college.
“It’s like they’re trying to be Marshall Fields or something,” said Chicago high school student Stephanie Evans, shopping for a bikini for spring break. “But it’s really the same things as at Wal-Mart, just at higher prices.”
The first Target discount store opened in Roseville, Minnesota, a suburb of St. Paul, in 1962. It was run by the Dayton Company, which originated in 1902 with a retail store called Goodfellows owned by George Dayton in Minneapolis. Along with the discount stores, Target Corp. runs Target Financial Services, which manages the Target REDcard credit card. Target: We Train the FBI
Perhaps Target’s oddest singularity is the fact that it boasts one of the nation’s top forensics labs at its company headquarters. A product of its efforts to stop shoplifting and property destruction at its stores, its mastery of surveillance and investigative technology and strategy is now eagerly subscribed to by law enforcement agencies nationwide, including the FBI. The company provides training for police and federal agents on investigation and prevention of everything from arson and robbery to smuggling.
Target does more proportionately for the community in the form of community grants and charity than Wal-Mart does, and spends considerably less boating about it. According to the company website, which says Target donates more than $2 million a week to local and national non-profit organizations. The company gives grants of $1,000 to $3,000 to community organizations, and shoppers can donate 1 percent of Target REDcard charges to a local school. The website says more than $154 million has been donated to schools since 1997. The company also runs Target House, a luxury residential facility in Memphis where families can stay while their seriously ill children are treated at a nearby medical center.
In comparison, Wal-Mart, with revenue of $288 billion in 2005, donated $200 million (or 7/100ths of a percent) to charities and organizations in 2005, according to its web site.
While many customers and employees praise Target’s charity efforts, critics counter that the company would have more positive impact on communities by providing living wage, stable jobs to local residents.
Following the general trend in retail and the U.S. job market as a whole, Target relies on part-time workers. This schedule may work well for some students and retired people, but it contributes to a dearth of full-time, fully benefitted, stable employment – especially in communities reeling from the store’s impact on small local businesses.
“If I needed a full time job I couldn’t afford to work here,” said "Rosa" a 57-year-old who works part time at a St. Paul Target near her house. (Her name has been changed because she fears retribution.) “It starts at $7.50 an hour and you only get a 50-cent raise once a year. So how long will it take you to even get to $10 an hour! You can’t live on that.” Diversity Dilemma
Target’s website says diversity is a core value for employees and customers. It says Target is above national averages in employing minorities, both in the overall workforce (21 percent) and managerial positions (38 percent).
But that may depend on the store. Hesse said that some of the many Somalis refugees employed in the Twin Cities stores complain about cultural insensitivity and discrimination.
“Entry level management people just don’t know how to handle it, they seem to be insensitive to immigrant workers,” said Hesse. “In one store, there’s a lot of friction between managers and Somali workers. They hire these young white boys as managers, and then they run a crew of Somalis with a very condescending attitude.”
An African-American employee at the flagship Roseville, Minn. store (who asked that her name not be used for fear of retribution), said she feels as if she constantly suffers racial discrimination. She said there are no black supervisors on the overnight shift she works. “There are a lot of Somalis working on the overnight shift, but no Somali team leader.” She said she is tired of young white “team leaders” repeatedly telling her to work faster or do things differently.
“It’s the same conversation over and over,” said the middle-aged woman. “They treat us like we’re kids. And they’ll approach you in front of other crew members, not in the office or somewhere private.”
She thinks she was unfairly given a document from management saying she needed to increase her work speed.
“I feel like I was discriminated against because I’m black,” she said. “I talked to white co-workers who I was working side by side with, and I could see I was working just as fast as them. I asked them if they had to sign the paper [from management] saying they were too slow and they did not. The majority who got the "guidance" slips were Somali or African-American like myself.”
Beat the Clock
Workers generally complain about a pressurized and patronizing work atmosphere where they are constantly pressed to work harder and faster and at the same time to act cheery and invested in the store’s success. The company’s website boasts that workers will respond with “cheetah-like” speed within 60 seconds to customer calls on the red phones throughout the store.
Rosa said employees are constantly exhorted to get shoppers to sign up for Target REDcards; some stores have weekly quotas. “They’ll have little employee promotions, it’s so ridiculous, you’ll get candy or a liter of pop if you get two people to sign up,” she said.
She said the store is generally understaffed and workers are expected to do numerous jobs at the same time.
“You’re running around, feeling like you’re being pulled in every direction,” she said. “There’s never enough people on the sales floor. You’re getting calls to come up to the cash register, to do pulls [of merchandise] in the back room, to deal with returns at guest services, all at once. And the whole time you’re constantly picking up and folding stuff, getting things off the floor. At my age it’s a really hard day, on your feet the whole time on these linoleum floors. I’m aching when I get home. I have to take Ibuprofen just to be able to sleep.”
John Hayden had a similar experience working in a Target distribution center near his home in Oconomowoc, Wisc. After quitting his Target job in 2002, he was diagnosed with a hernia which he blames on lifting up to 700 boxes a day.
“It was hard work,” said Hayden, who was in his late 50s at the time. “We never produced enough to keep the middle managers happy. I think they plan it that way – they always want more.” Could it Be Different?
In today’s market, could retail really be any different? Fair labor advocates think so. Hesse notes that in several unionized grocery stores in the Twin Cities, hourly wages hover around $13 to $17 an hour, roughly double Target’s. Now SuperTarget’s sale of groceries threatens the survival of union grocery stores.
Even other major big box retailers have managed to pay significantly higher wages and achieve higher employee retention. The prices at Costco Wholesale Corp., the nation’s fifth largest retailer, are competitive with those at Target and Wal-Mart, but it pays full-time employees an average of around $16 an hour along with generous health benefits.
Costco pulls this off by offering fewer brands of each item, keeping infrastructure costs low and forgoing advertising; and the company also benefits financially from low employee turnover. Labor advocates also note that The Container Store is known for decent wages and good working conditions.
“We’ve turned into a nation of consumers, not citizens,” said Hesse. “We need to make retailers and employers bring back the old social contract where if you work hard and give them full time, they have to treat you with some degree of dignity and pay you enough that you don’t need to worry about your basic needs all the time.”
One of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s most vociferous critics launched a campaign Tuesday with 17 current and former Wal-Mart workers speaking out against health insurance coverage they claim is too expensive, leaving them uninsured or on taxpayer funded programs.
News conferences by the workers in eight states Tuesday and four more scheduled later this week and next are timed to help a union-backed drive for legislation that would require the world's largest retailer to pay a fixed percentage for health coverage of its 1.3 million U.S. workers.
WakeUpWalMart.com, a group backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers union, said 10 speakers were current Wal-Mart employees and seven more had quit or been fired.
In workers' stories collected ahead of the news conferences by the group, several current employees talk about being unable to afford premiums and deductibles even after working for Wal-Mart for several years.
Dana Razaie has been a stocker at a Wal-Mart in Fridley, Minn., for about five years. She said she depends on state-funded MinnesotaCare for health coverage for herself and three children.
According to WakeUpWalMart, Razaie's wage of $11.29 an hour at Wal-Mart and a second job at a gas station leave her with take-home pay of less than $20,000 a year. Razaie says she cannot afford Wal-Mart's health insurance plan with $300 monthly premiums and deductibles reaching over $1,000.
Wal-Mart said it is already taking steps to make insurance more affordable. It offers a new plan this year that costs $23 a month and covers three doctor visits and three prescriptions before a deductible of $1,000 kicks in.
It also launched an $11 plan in a limited number of locations but will widen that to be available to half of all employees later this year, as well as shortening the eligibility period for part-timers and adding coverage of their children.
"Our jobs give people the opportunity to move from public health programs to private health coverage," company spokeswoman Sarah Clark said.
Clark said 7 percent of new employees are on Medicaid when they join Wal-Mart, a percentage that drops to 3 percent within two years, and that Wal-Mart created 125,000 jobs last year.
Wal-Mart also offered testimonials from six current employees who praised the company's coverage, including a woman who was a divorced mother of three when she joined in 1998 in Hermiston, Ore.
"Within the first year with Wal-Mart, I no longer needed food stamps and I had medical, dental, and life insurance through Wal-Mart," wrote Heather Baumgartner, now a logistics manager in Grantsville, Utah.
Razaie was due to appear at a news conference Tuesday in Minneapolis. Other workers were to speak Tuesday in Boston; Dallas; Lansing, Mich.; Orlando, Fla.; Philadelphia; Tulsa, Okla.; and Syracuse, N.Y. The other five events over the next two weeks are to be held in Connecticut, Kentucky, Maine, New York and Tennessee.
The campaign comes as unions are pushing for bills in several states similar to one passed in a veto override by the Maryland legislature in January.
Maryland's "Fair Share" bill, which has been challenged in federal courts by a national retail association, requires large employers to spend at least 8 percent of payroll in a state for employee health coverage or pay the difference into state coffers for publicly funded programs for the uninsured.
Proponents say similar bills filed in at least 22 states would stop taxpayer subsidies for profitable companies that skimp on health coverage, leaving workers to sign up with state programs.
Opponents including Wal-Mart and many business groups say the bills are bad policy aimed at punishing Wal-Mart and will do nothing to solve the problem of the working uninsured and rising health care costs.
Labor unions are pushing the bills in about 30 states. Maryland is the only state to have passed it, and since then similar bills have been rejected, stalled or withdrawn in at least eight states, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures and Wal-Mart..
The Maryland legislature passed a law Thursday that would require Wal-Mart Stores to increase spending on employee health insurance, a measure that is expected to be a model for other states.
The legislature's move, which overrode a veto by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, was a response to growing criticism that Wal-Mart, the nation's largest private employer, has skimped on benefits and shifted health costs to state governments.
The vote came after a furious lobbying battle by Wal-Mart and by labor and liberal groups, and is likely to encourage lawmakers in dozens of other states who are considering similar legislation.
Many state legislatures have looked to Maryland as a test case, as they face fast-rising Medicaid costs, and Wal-Mart's critics say that too many of its employees have been forced to turn to Medicaid.
Under the Maryland law, employers with 10,000 or more workers in the state must spend at least 8 percent of their payrolls on health insurance, or else pay the difference into a state Medicaid fund.
A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said the company was "weighing its options," including a lawsuit to challenge the law because it is close to that 8 percent threshold already.
It is unclear how much the new law will cost Wal-Mart in Maryland - or around the country, if similar laws are adopted, because Wal-Mart has not publicly divulged what it spends on health care.
But it was concerned enough about the bill to hire four firms to lobby the legislature intensely over the last two months, and contributed at least $4,000 to the re-election campaign of Governor Ehrlich.
A spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, Mia Masten, said that "everyone should have access to affordable health insurance, but this legislation does nothing to accomplish this goal."
"This is about partisan politics," she said, "and this is poor public policy driven by special-interest groups."
There are four employers in Maryland with more than 10,000 workers - among them, Johns Hopkins University, the grocery chain Giant Food and the military contractor Northrop Grumman, but only Wal-Mart falls below the 8 percent threshold on health care spending.
A Democratic lawmaker who sponsored the legislation, State Senator Gloria G. Lawlah , maintained: "This is not a Wal-Mart bill, it's a Medicaid bill." This bill says to the conglomerates, 'Don't dump the employees that you refuse to insure into our Medicaid systems.' "
Opponents said the law would open the door for broader state regulation of health care spending by private companies and would send the message that Maryland is antibusiness.
"The message is, 'Don't come here,' " said Senator E. J. Pipkin, a Republican. "This is an anti-jobs bill."
Several lawmakers said that in the end, the law would require Wal-Mart to spend only slightly more than it does now on health insurance. But with Wal-Mart refusing to disclose what it pays for health costs, it was unclear how much more it would be required to pay.
This is the second time that the Maryland legislature, which is dominated by Democrats, has passed the Wal-Mart bill. Governor Ehrlich vetoed it late last year, inviting a senior Wal-Mart executive to sit by his side as he did so.
Indeed, the bill is shaping up as an issue in the fall campaign, with Republicans and their business allies lining up against it, and Democrats and their labor union supporters backing it. Wal-Mart has 53 stores and employs about 17,000 people in Maryland.
Debate was particularly emotional among representatives from Maryland's Eastern Shore, where Wal-Mart recently announced plans to build a distribution center that would employ up to 1,000.
Wal-Mart executives have strongly suggested that they might build the center elsewhere if lawmakers passed the health care bill.
In a passionate speech in the State Senate, J. Lowell Stoltzfus, a Republican, warned that the bill "jeopardizes good employment for my people."
"It's going to hurt us very bad," he added,
The bill's passage underscored the success of the union campaign to turn Wal-Mart into a symbol of what is wrong in the American health care system.
Wal-Mart has come under severe criticism because it insures less than half its United States work force and because its employees routinely show up, in larger numbers than employees of other retailers, on state Medicaid rolls.
In response to the complaints, the company introduced a new health care plan late last year, with premiums as low as $11 a month.
Consumer advocates specializing in health care are hoping that the Maryland law will be the first of many.
"You're going to see similar legislation being introduced," said Ronald Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a nonprofit health advocacy organization, "and debated in at least three dozen more states, and at least some of those states will end up also requiring large employers to provide health care coverage."
Mr. Pollack suggested that he did not expect any groundswell of opposition from corporate America. Most companies, he said, provide insurance and know that the costs of medical treatment for uninsured people are reflected in their insurance premiums. Mr. Pollack said that, by his organization's calculations, the cost of such treatment drove up employer premiums by $922 a family last year. In 2006, he said, the added cost could reach $1,000 a family.
"Those employers should welcome the fact that the companies that do not offer coverage now will be forced to step up to the plate," he said.
State lawmakers here in Annapolis took repeated swipes at Wal-Mart during debate over the bill on Thursday. It appeared that the company's intensive lobbying campaign in Maryland, including advertisements arguing that the requirement would hurt small businesses, might have soured some lawmakers.
Senator Lawlah called the lobbying "horrendous" and adding, "I have never seen anything like it."
Frank D. Boston III, the chief lobbyist for Wal-Mart on the health care bill, stood in the main corridor of the Capitol building on Thursday wearing a look of resignation. Referring to unions in the state, he said, "They have a power we can't match, and we worked this bill extremely hard."
Wal-Mart is appealing. The company settled a similar case in Colorado for $50 million.
Wal-Mart has given "every indication" that it will go to trial rather than settle, Mr. Donovan said. A Wal-Mart spokesman, Kevin Thornton, said the company was considering appealing the decision. Claudia H. Deutsch contributed reporting from New York for this article.
Thx/Mourning, World AIDS,
Women‘s Days to
All, create for All,
write on :) These actions
on Disabled Greens News
and discussion: Unhacked
According to wiki; "A
classic staple of science
fiction and superhero
is matter composed
subatomic particles that
have mostly exactly the
same properties (mass,
intrinsic angular mo...
Beginning in the 1950s,
American and Soviet
scientists engaged in a
dangerous race to see who
could build and detonate
the world's largest bomb.
In the Soviet Union,
Andrei Sakharov was the
architect of this
According to the movie,
According to NIRS;
"Marine life in all
forms, from endangered
manatees and sea turtles
to essential microscopic
organisms, is being
harmed and killed by
systems, used to remove
waste heat at nuclear
3/18/11: "The source term
provided to NARAC was:
(1) 25% of the total fuel
in unit 2 (SFP) released
to the atmosphere, (2)
50% of the total spent
fuel from unit 3 (SFP)
was released to the
atmosphere, and (3) 100%
of the total spent fuel
The world is green where
the trolls dwellThe
forest is deep where the
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trolls dwell is peace and
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ill and harmThe trolls'
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I had seen some great
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beauty didn’t much
move meCute was not
enough to catch my eyeI
could appreciate it but I
itUntil I saw her that
morningIn her long dress
as black as the ...
Every nuclear reactor
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the planet, from just ONE
nuclear reactor. If a
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ect.org A nuclear
workers at Fukushima to
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with lead to lower
official levels of
radiation would be
workers to work longer
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An Evening withGreen
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will be collected for the
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