Maryland gov vetoes minimum wage hike, Wal-Mart health care requirement

LANDOVER, Md. (PAI) — Union leaders in Maryland and nationally blasted GOP Gov. Robert Ehrlich for vetoing a health care bill that targeted Wal-Mart’s bad benefits.

And, to insult to injury, Ehrlich — who raised thousands of dollars for his last campaign from the anti-worker retail giant — stood side by side with a top Wal-Mart official at the veto site May 19. A day later, Ehrlich vetoed another bill that would have raised Maryland’s minimum wage.

State Senate President Mike Miller (D) later predicted the Democratic-run General Assembly would override both Ehrlich vetoes when it reconvenes in January.

The Fair Share Health Care Fund bill required any company operating in the Free State that had more than 10,000 workers to spend at least 8 percent of its payroll on health care insurance for its workers, or contribute the difference between 8 percent and what it spends to the state’s fund that pays for Medicaid, the joint federal-state health care program for the poor.

The measure was popularly known as “The Wal-Mart bill” because of all enterprises that employ at least 10,000 people in Maryland — including Johns Hopkins University, aerospace giant Lockheed Martin and Giant Food — only Wal-Mart flunked. Studies show it spends 2 percent to 3 percent of its Maryland payroll on health care.

Its low health care spending in Maryland tracks company policy of expensive health care, low wages and attempts to kill other retailers through its alleged low prices.

The minority of Wal-Mart’s 1 million workers who choose to purchase its coverage often spend at least one-fifth of their pay on health insurance. The rest of Wal-Mart’s employees rely on public — taxpayer-paid — health care. Ehrlich chose the site of a planned Wal-Mart distribution center for his veto rite.

Jim Lowthers, president of UFCW Local 400, which represents workers at Giant, called the veto “despicable.” European-owned Giant said it lobbied for the health care bill “to level the playing field.”

Lowthers noted Ehrlich’s administration contributed $500,000 to improve infrastructure to ease access to the distribution center, and that Maryland is paying almost half of the cost to buy the 178-acre site.

“In addition, the company is being handed $5.7 million in tax credits,” Lowthers said. He said Maryland taxpayers are going to be paying for years to come, “particularly since most of the employees, like other Wal-Mart workers, won’t be able to afford the company’s health care plan and will apply for public assistance.”