May, 2005

UFCW LOCAL 400 SAYS: EHRLICH PLAYS POLITICS WITH STATE

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.

Omaha Community Calls for Free and Fair Elections at Nebraska Beef

Omaha, Neb-Community leaders and activists from Omaha are urging Nebraska Beef to live up to community standards and guarantee its workers their democratic right to vote for union representation without coercion or intimidation.

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 271, Omaha Together One Community (OTOC), members of the clergy, and elected officials are calling on Nebraska Beef, one of the largest beef-kill operations in the country, to drop its systematic and illegal anti-worker tactics and allow workers to participate in an upcoming union election without fears of reprisals. The Community leaders are calling for Nebraska beef to allow fair-minded, community monitors to bear witness in the run up to the voting and to ensure that the company lets the election take place in an environment free from coercion and intimidation.

On April 6, 2005, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ordered a new election at Nebraska Beef after citing the company for violating workers’ rights in an August 2001 election, after UFCW had filed charges on behalf of the workers. The NLRB upheld a hearing officer’s findings that the company used a broad range of intimidation tactics to deny workers a voice on the job in the 2001 election, including:

  • Illegal interrogation of employees concerning their union sympathies;
  • Illegal threats of job and benefit loss if workers selected a union as their collective bargaining representative; and
  • Illegal threats to change working conditions if they selected the union.
  • Deliberately providing an inaccurate eligible vote list, which the hearing officer ruled was a “”bad faith effort to impede the union’s access to voters.

The mostly Latino workforce has endured continued mistreatment at the hands of company managers. Jose Guardado a worker at Nebraska Beef for more than seven years and union supporter said, “”I was fired for standing up for a voice at work. They made up some excuses, but I know it was because of my union activism. I would expect this to happen in El Salvador, but I was hoping workers had grater liberties in America.”” Guardado was an observer in the 2001 election and rendered testimony at the NLRB hearings. “”Only if the company allows the community to be witness of how they treat the workers we can hope for things to be different,”” Jose added.

UFCW Local 271 successfully fought on behalf of seven workers who had been fired in retaliation for standing up to management and demanding safer working conditions. In addition, the company has had to pay back wages in settlement charges filed by UFCW Local 271 for illegally firing three employees who protested unsafe working conditions.

WakeUpWalMart.Com: MESSAGE TO GOVERNOR EHRLICH

Washington DC – WakeupWalmart.com, America’s campaign to change Wal-Mart, called on its 50,000 supporters to immediately contact and pressure Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich not to veto the “”Fair Share Healthcare”” legislation.

As adopted, by both the Maryland State Senate and the House of Delegates, the “”Fair Share Healthcare”” bill requires companies with more than 10,000 employees to live up to their responsibilities as profitable employers and pay their fair share for health care.

Contrary to some reports, the Maryland bill does not specifically target Wal-Mart.

There are 4 corporations in Maryland with more than 10,000 employees (Giant Foods, Northrup Grumman, Johns Hopkins, and Wal-Mart).  Wal-Mart is simply the only company that fails to live up to its moral responsibility of providing its workers with adequate health care.  The bill is designed to ensure large employers don’t use state public health assistance as a method of providing healthcare for their workers.

“”With over $10 billion in profits last year it is morally bankrupt that Wal-Mart fails to pay its fair share of health care costs,”” said Paul Blank, WakeUpWalmart.com’s campaign director.  “”It is sad to see Governor Ehrlich say no to health care for families and children and yes to tax subsidies for multi-billion dollar corporations.””

The Fair Share Healthcare legislation in Maryland is part of growing effort by the UFCW, WakeUpWalmart, and numerous civic and community groups, who are determined to make corporations, like Wal-Mart, live up to their responsibilities. The goal of such legislation is to ensure that large companies do not shift their healthcare costs on to taxpayers at a time when our healthcare system is already in crisis.