May 19, 2005


LANDOVER, Md. – Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s announced decision to defy the public’s will and veto the Fair Share Health Care Fund Act tomorrow is a despicable example of the governor playing politics rather than addressing the critical issue of Maryland’s rapidly growing number of uninsured, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 said.

“We had hoped that when considering the Fair Share bill, Gov. Ehrlich would be big enough to get beyond his cozy relationships with Wal-Mart and other Big Business backers, and side with the majority of people in the state,” Local 400 President Jim Lowthers said. “But it appears that the governor is turning his back on working families.”

A poll released in January showed that nearly 8 in 10 Maryland voters agree that businesses with 10,000 employees or more should be required to spend at least 8 percent of their payroll on health care insurance, which is what the Fair Share legislation would require. Maryland lawmakers answered the public’s call, passing the Fair Share bill with overwhelming support.

Lowthers pointed out that Maryland’s Fair Share law has been widely praised nationally, and that legislators in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Wisconsin have introduced similar legislation. “We believe the people’s representatives in Maryland will override the veto when they convene next year,” he said, “but it’s a shame that Gov. Ehrlich has chosen to throw up this roadblock on behalf of Wal-Mart.

Gov. Ehrlich’s decision to announce the veto in Somerset County at the site where Wal-Mart plans to build a new distribution center, and in the presence of a top Wal-Mart executive, is a political ploy that may backfire, Lowthers warned.

“Ehrlich will say that this is about jobs, but it’s really about taking advantage of taxpayers,” he said. “Even with Fair Share, Wal-Mart was forging ahead with its plans to build the distribution center because it can’t afford not to, considering the sweet deal the Ehrlich administration has handed this billion-dollar company.”

Maryland not only is contributing $500,000 to improve infrastructure to facilitate access to Wal-Mart’s planned distribution center, but the state also is paying almost half of the cost to purchase the 178-acre site, according to published reports. In addition, the company is being handed $5.7 million in tax credits.

“Maryland taxpayers are going to paying for these jobs 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,” Lowthers said. Wal-Mart employees eligible for the company’s plan must hand over about a fifth of their paychecks to cover Wal-Mart’s premiums, often more than $200 a month per worker – a steep price considering most earn between $8 and $10 an hour.

Wal-Mart appears to be the only large employer that falls below the minimum 8 percent, although Wal-Mart claims the difference is minimal. Research by the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, however, indicates that Wal-Mart spends as little as 2 percent to 3 percent of its payroll on health care, draining $30 million a year from our local economies in tax-supported benefits.

Meanwhile, some of Maryland’s other largest employers, like Giant Foods and Northrop Grumman, are already paying their fair share. These companies, each of which employ more than 10,000 workers in the state, pay well above the 8 percent of their payrolls to provide decent health coverage. In the case of Giant Foods, a competitor of Wal-Mart’s, “doing the right thing puts Giant at a disadvantage and gives Wal-Mart an unfair advantage in the grocery business,” Lowthers said.

Pointing to a recent $1,000-a-head fundraising dinner for Ehrlich hosted by Wal-Mart, Lowthers challenged the governor to explain how he would solve a health care crisis that is aggravated by the employment policies of his political benefactor.

“Maryland legislators answered the call to fix our health care system, taking a good first step by passing the Fair Share bill,” Lowthers said. “Ehrlich, however, has chosen to ignore the health care needs of Maryland’s working families while agreeing to subsidize the poster child for bad corporate citizenship.

“Marylanders have every right to ask themselves whose side Ehrlich is on,” he said.

UFCW Local 400 represents approximately 40,000 workers in Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Maryland and the District of Columbia.