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2004-11-03
Sacramento, CA. California's Lawmakers Want Public Pension To Drop Wal-Mart Stock

Wal-Mart money helped defeat Proposition 72 in the November 2nd California election, but the retailer could win the battle yet lose the larger war. Prop 72 was a proposal requiring large businesses in California to provide health insurance for its workers, or pay into a state pool to fund health coverage. The measure was narrowly defeated by a vote of 50.9% against, to 49.1% in favor. The measure had been passed already by the California General Assembly, but was put before the general electorate. "Citizen" Wal-Mart stepped in to help finance the anti-Prop 72 when the measure's supporters began running TV ads focusing on Wal-Mart as the poster child for companies that leave their workers without adequate health coverage. The pro-Prop 72 ads said that many low-paid workers turn to hospital emergency rooms for their routine health care needs. Wal-Mart responded angrily, and said it provides affordable health care coverage to its employees. "Like the rest of the business community, we are pleased voters rejected Prop. 72," a Wal-Mart spokesperson said. "As one of California's leading employers, we care about the health of our 60,000 employees here. That's why we provide our employees with affordable, quality health care coverage. We certainly support the goal of affordable health care for all Californians... Prop. 72 was never about Wal-Mart. It was about allowing businesses to operate without unreasonable government mandates, it was about the survival of small businesses, and it was about consumer choice in health care benefits. California voters agreed, rejecting what would have been an extremely expensive, government-mandated health care plan." But Wal-Mart's funding of the anti-Prop 72 measure angered many state lawmakers. Less than a week before the election, several California Assembly members told the media they would hold hearings to investigate claims that Wal-Mart burdens the state with an unfair portion of the retailer's employee health-care costs. Members of the Senate Budget Committee also raised the issue of whether California's pension fund, CalPERS should consider selling off its estimated $1 billion worth of Wal-Mart stock because of the company's policies. "The Senate Budget Committee will, as part of the budget process next year, investigate the extent that Wal-Mart does not provide coverage, and the extent that California taxpayers then pay for care for Wal-Mart's workers," said Senate Budget Committee chairman Wes Chesbro. "We need to figure out if Wal-Mart is not paying their fair share into the health care system on which we all rely." Wal-Mart's aggressive funding of the anti Prop 72 effort, and the call for CalPERS to divest its Wal-Mart stock were seen as politically related events. Wal-Mart kicked in $500,000 to defeat Prop 72. CalPERS is the nation's No. 1 pension fund, which owns an estimated 18.8 million shares of Wal-Mart stock worth more than $1 billion. Ironically, CalPERS supported Prop 72.

What you can do: In a related move, Mexican activists have approached TIAA-CREF, a retiremenet services group, to consider taking some action against Wal-Mart in response to the retailer's building of a store roughly one mile from the historic Teotihuacan pyramid near Mexico City. Activist Jaime Lagunez flew to New York this week to meet with TIAA-CREF officials. Lagunez asked TIAA-CREF to consider divesting their Wal-Mart stock, or at least remove it from the socially responsible investing portfolio. If funds like TIAA-CREF, and CalPERS were to sell their Wal-Mart stock, it would send a powerful message that Wal-Mart should pay more attention to the needs of local communities, and not carry out projects that arouse major local opposition.










 
 
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