Thursday, November 17, 2005

Shopping for Law at Wal-Mart

Back in April of 2005, The Maryland General Assembly passed a bill that would require any company in the state that employed more than 10,000 workers to spend, at minimum, 8% of payroll on health care benefits. If you have seen the Robert Greenwald movie, Wal-Mart, The High Cost of Low Price, you know that such a measure would not have been greeted well by Wal-Mart management.

And, indeed, it was not. Corporate clotpoll and governor of the state, Robert Erhlich (do I need to put the "R" behind his name?), vetoed the bill, claiming that it was directed specifically at Wal-Mart and therefore "unfair," a position espoused by Wal-Mart as well. No one denied that the bill would affect only Wal-Mart because they are the only employer in the state with more than 10,000 workers and which does not spend at least 8% of payroll on health care. Yes, the bill targeted Wal-Mart. Is this bad? Only if you're a Wal-Mart flack. I sense that the 15,000 employees who would stand to get some better health care didn't mind the bill.

Speaker of the House, Michael Busch (D-Anne Arundel) -- acting as unlike Bush as any Busch could -- is calling for a vote to override Ehrlich's veto. And now some very high-priced Wal-Mart lobbyists are descending on Annapolis. Wal-Mart also thought it might grease the skids a little and "donated" $10 grand to the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland to help pay for a conference. Wal-Mart spokeman, Nate Hurst, explained the reasons for the company's sudden and keen interest in Maryland's black legislators:
the donation to the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland was part of the company's continuing community outreach ....
Community outreach. Does bribery by any other name, smell as sweet? Now, I don't really believe that Wal-Mart has any biased interest in whether the state legislators they're trying to bribe are black or not. The Black Caucus just happened to have had a recent event that Wal-Mart could pay for as part of their "outreach" program.

Hurst claims that, apparently, other Maryland legislators seem to feel like they have been left off the "community outreach" gravy train. As Hurst explains,
There are several legislators out there who have requested that we continue to educate them.
Wal-Mart has chosen an interesting cast of "educators" to instruct what must surely be a few key legislators. One of the company's teachers is Pamela Metz Kasemeyer, the wife of a Senator Kasemeyer, a man who orginally voted for the bill. This is convenient and cost effective. Wal-Mart's education program has become a home schooling effort, at least as far as the Kasemeyers are concerned.

Wal-Mart's largesse may be for naught, though, as it appears that the Legislative Black Caucus will likely not switch their votes from those made in April. However, the vote count back then, while a strong majority, is not certain to guarantee a veto override and that is exactly what Wal-Mart is counting on. They only really need to sway a small number of legislators, who, as Hurst says, just want a little more "education."

Why is it so hard for Wal-Mart to recognise that their public image is in the shitter and to just adopt some better labour practices. The amount of money the company spends defending themselves against and paying fines for unfair labour practice lawsuits, illegal worker lawsuits, sexual discrimination lawsuits and racial dsicrimination lawsuits across the country would probably buy some decent health care insurance for a lot of their employees.


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