February 17, 2006

Washington gov. vows Wal-Mart health care bill

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Washington state Gov. Christine
Gregoire told union members on Thursday she would support
legislation next year to require large employers such as
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to provide health benefits to their

The speaker of Washington state's House declined to bring a
similar bill to a vote earlier this week, shutting down a
campaign by the state's labor lobbyists on behalf of the
measure and preventing the bill from reaching Gregoire.

"She's concerned about taxpayers having to pay for health
insurance for big employers, which should be paying for their
employees," said Gregoire spokeswoman Holly Armstrong.

Similar legislative efforts are under way across the nation
as unions aim to pressure large employers such as Wal-Mart to
provide workers with health-care coverage.

Critics of Wal-Mart, the world's biggest retailer, say its
health-care benefits are inadequate and its employees are being
forced into state-subsidized health plans and imposing costs on

In California, Democratic state Sen. Carole Migden plans to
press a bill to require employers with more than 10,000
employees to spend at least 8 percent of total wages on health
benefits. According to her office, the bill would require
Wal-Mart to pay $50 million toward the benefits.

Wal-Mart last week in a statement criticized the
unsuccessful Washington state bill and other employer mandate
bills, and said its employees could obtain health coverage for
$23 per month.

"We're proud that our solution oriented approach has helped
160,000 previously uninsured Americans get private insurance,"
Wal-Mart spokeswoman Jennifer Holder said in the statement.