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2005-09-30
Suffolk County, NY. Lawmakers Pass “Fair Share for Health Care.”

This week lawmakers in Suffolk County, New York nearly unanimously passed a law designed to ensure that large employers cover the cost of health care for their workers, rather than leaving that expense to state or federal taxpayers. The new law would require large grocery stores, including "big box" retailers and drug stores that sell groceries, to contribute $3.00 to health care costs for each hour that their employees work. Companies would be prohibited from deducting any charge from the employee's wages. The measure would affect companies like Wal-Mart, Target, BJs, and Kmart, but would not affect chains like Home Depot and Lowe's. Major grocery employers in the county currently contribute at approximately that rate. According to the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, the Suffolk county legislature in Long Island voted 17-to-1 to pass the "Fair Share for Health Care Act" -- a new local law similar to ones passed in New York City and Maryland. The Governor of Maryland vetoed the measure in his state, and the Mayor of New York City did the same. However, proponents expect both vetoes to be overridden by legislators, since both bills passed with more than enough votes to overcome a veto. "Passing the bill is a huge victory for taxpayers, workers and businesses that already take the high road," said Brian Schneck, chair of the Suffolk County Working Families Party. By one estimate, the county spends up to $25 million each year on Medicaid services for employees and families of food retailers that do not provide health care. "The Fair Share for Health Care Act is a practical response to the costs that low-wage, no-benefits jobs impose on our communities," said Paul Sonn, Deputy Director of the Poverty Program at the Brennan Center. The new law was enacted through a campaign led by the Long Island Federation of Labor, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Working Families Party and Long Island Jobs with Justice. Suffolk County executive, Steve Levy, told the New York Times that the bill's intent was laudable, "and I'm leaning towards supporting it." The Suffolk County legislature is controlled by Republicans.

What you can do: One lawmaker who voted for the new legislation told the New York Times that "Wal-Mart has profited off the public sector to the tune of billions of dollars." A Wal-Mart spokesman said that all Wal-Mart Associates were eligible for health coverage but that about half declined it. He said the high portion of Wal-Mart employees who decline coverage was due to the "nontraditional" makeup of Wal-Mart's workforce: high school and college students who are covered by their parents' insurance, married women covered by their husbands' insurance, and the elderly covered under a retirement plan. Most elders at Wal-Mart are not likely to have more than Medicare coverage, which has large deductibles, and high copayments for hospital and doctor's care. And many Wal-Mart employees with spouses, if they had affordable health coverage at Wal-Mart, could lower family costs by not having to be on a family plan at their spouse's employer. A large factor not mentioned by Wal-Mart is the unaffordability of Wal-Mart health plans for workers making $8.50 and hour, plus the better coverage provided by public programs like Medicaid. Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott has admitted that public health insurance is more attractive than Wal-Mart health benefits, but the company denies it steers its workers towards public assistance plans. For help drafting a Fair Share Health Care Act in your state, contact Paul Sonn at paul.sonn@nyu.edu or (212) 998-6328.










 
 
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