June, 2005

Kennedy, Corzine and Weiner Introduce New Health Care Legislation to Hold Companies, like Wal-Mart, Accountable

Washington D.C. – Today, Senator Ted Kennedy, Senator Jon Corzine and Representative Anthony Weiner announced the introduction of the Health Care

 

Accountability Act (HCAA) to expose the growing problem of profitable companies, like Wal-Mart, forcing workers onto public health care designed for the needy. The legislation is an important first step in the growing national campaign to “”Make Wal-Mart Care About Health Care”” launched by WakeUpWalMart.com.

The HCAA bill will expose the “”Wal-Mart Health Care Tax”” – the price we all pay because Wal-Mart fails to provide its workers with affordable health care.  Not only do more than 600,000 Wal-Mart workers go without company provided health insurance, but tens of thousands of their employees are forced to rely on taxpayer funded public health care.

“”Wal-Mart’s poverty wages, high deductibles and strict eligibility requirements force tens of thousands of their employees to rely on taxpayer funded public health care,”” said President Joe Hansen.  “”The Wal-Mart health care crisis costs taxpayers over $210 million and counting.  It is simply un-American and unfair for a company with over $10 billion in profits to shift their costs onto us.””

The HCAA requires all states to gather and release the number of employees that companies have on taxpayer funded public health care. The gathering and disclosure of this data is critical to estimating the considerable cost taxpayers already bear because of the failure of large, profitable employers who force workers and their families onto public health care assistance.

“”Programs like Medicaid provide a critical safety net for low-income women and children, the disabled and the elderly and shouldn’t be a profit center for large companies like Wal-Mart,”” said Senator Ted Kennedy.

In at least 12 states, Wal-Mart has more employees, spouses and dependents on state public assistance than any other employer in the state.  In the state of Georgia, for

 

example, more than 10,000 children on PeachCare (the state’s health care program for low income children) had parents working for Wal-Mart at an estimated cost of $10 million per year.  The next largest employer only had 734 children in the program.

“”Americans pay a high price for Wal-Mart’s race to the bottom.  We deserve to know the truth about the high cost of Wal-Mart’s greed,”” said Paul Blank, Campaign Director for WakeUpWalMart.com.

At the press conference, WakeUpWalMart.com revealed the “”Wal-Mart Health Care Tax”” bill, a 3-foot-by-6-foot replica of an actual “”Wal-Mart bill.”” The bill displays the estimated dollar cost U.S. taxpayers pay for Wal-Mart’s failure to provide health insurance to their workers.  A large map of the United States was also displayed to symbolize “”America’s Hidden Health Care Cost”” – the 4-foot map of the United States that will display how little state data is available and how hidden the cost to taxpayers and our health care system remains.

###

Background
Wal-Mart, a company with $10 billion dollars in net profit last year, fails to provide health care for more than 52% percent of its 1.3 million workers. In 12 of 13 states with released and analyzed data, Wal-Mart workers rely on public health care, like Medicaid, more than the workers of any other employer.

As a result, in state after state, Wal-Mart is directly shifting its health care responsibilities onto American taxpayers. Central to the campaign will be a grassroots effort to build public and political pressure against Wal-Mart to address its part in America’s health care crisis, as well as a call for legislative action that will ensure Wal-Mart – not taxpayers – pays its fair share for health care in each and every state.

The “”Make Wal-Mart Care About Health Care”” campaign initiative is part of a nationwide effort to change Wal-Mart led by wakeupwalmart.com

Statement of Joe Hansen, International President, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union

WASHINGTON — The following is a statement by Joe Hansen, International President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, at the ‘Change To Win’ Coalition meeting:

Yesterday, the International Executive Board of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) unanimously endorsed a reform proposal to restructure the AFL- CIO, and to revitalize the labor movement.

Today, we join with some of the largest and most dynamic unions in the labor movement in a coalition for change.

These actions reflect the UFCW’s commitment to build a 21st century labor movement that can bring hope, and a plan of action for a better life, to a new generation of workers. We recognize that today’s realities-a new global economy, unrestrained corporate power, hostile government-present a formidable challenge to our movement. But, we must always remember that from our greatest challenges come our greatest accomplishments.

Labor in the 20th century stood at its lowest point in the 1930s. But, at our lowest point, we also stood on the verge of our greatest growth, our greatest strength and our greatest impact on the economy and society. From the depths of economic depression in 1935, we rose, within 20 years, to our largest percentage of the workforce, and we created the working middle class.

Today’s workers face the steady erosion of their power in the workplace, in the economy and in the political process. Rising profits, increasing productivity and a growing economy have not brought rising wages, better benefits, or economic security. There is a power imbalance between workers and the giant corporations that dominate the world economy.

The UFCW and our coalition partners are committed to redressing this imbalance, and to rebuilding worker power.

The current AFL-CIO administration asserts that there is little difference between our reform agenda and their AFL-CIO Officers’ Proposal.

There are profound differences in our visions for the future for America’s workers. We believe in organizing, not simply for more members, but in organizing to build worker power. The foundation of worker power is in increasing the number of union workers in an industry or occupation. Our proposals specifically direct resources to organizing in a union’s core industries. Our proposal provides for a leadership structure that promotes diversity and full participation and gives authority to the affiliates representing the majority of members.

Rebuilding worker power will give workers the hope for a better future. Workers with hope will organize, they will stand up, they will act in solidarity at work, in the community and in the political process. The starting point for our new movement to rebuild worker power is here, and it starts with us. This is the beginning.

We are going forward to bring a platform for change to the AFL-CIO convention. We will engage all other unions in a dialogue for change. Our purpose is not to divide, but to unite unions in a dynamic new movement for today’s workers.

The unions you see here are the unions representing the emerging 21st century workforce — young people, women, minorities, new immigrants and older workers forced to extend their work lives. From hospitality to retail to services, and from health care to transportation to construction, our unions are fighting the battles, confronting the employers and organizing the workers that are the future in America.

Yesterday, the UFCW Board also authorized the executive officers to disaffiliate from the AFL-CIO. This action was not taken lightly. We are committed to a united, reformed labor movement. But, the status quo will not stand. We will not be chained to the past, our obligation is to the future of our members.

As I said, in the 1930s, we were at our lowest point, but also on the verge of our greatest accomplishments. When the CIO left the AFL in the 1930s, it did not set us back, it propelled the movement forward. The CIO was committed to organizing the workforce of the day — mass production workers — and it changed the labor movement.

I believe today we are taking the steps that will change the labor movement and change the future for workers.

Leading the Fight for Workers’ Rights

UFCW stewards are on the front line of member representation. Every day, thousands of UFCW stewards are standing up to help coworkers with everyday issues at work:

  •   Enforcing union contract provisions and identifying safety and health hazards; and
  •   Participating in chain meetings to coordinate bargaining strategies with union brothers and sisters from other locals.

In effect, stewards are leading the fight for workers’ rights. “I got involved in the union because I couldn’t stand seeing how supervisors treated my coworkers,” says Maribel Cervantes, a steward at the Excel beef operation in Dodge City, Kan., and UFCW Local 2 member. “You don’t need to know everything to be a steward. It only takes love for your coworkers and pride in your job.” Maribel, along with nearly a dozen other UFCW stewards from across the country, recently attended a training workshop at UFCW International headquarters in Washington. The workshop focused on developing steward skills to recognize on-the-job safety and health risks, then take the appropriate action so that companies correct them. The “Train the Trainer” workshop also focused on providing stewards with skills to go back to their workplaces and share information with coworkers on how to become more involved with solving workplace concerns.

 
Stewards are not only involved in actions to protect rights at work, they also play a leading role in planning bargaining strategy, and helping coordinate negotiation tactics for members nationwide who work for the same employer. Through chain meetings, UFCW stewards meet with other stewards and UFCW support staff to exchange experience and devise a plan to approach national employers.

 
“Coordinating negotiations in the Hormel chainhas been very beneficial for us,” says Dean Shinn, the walking steward at the company’s Knoxville, Iowa, plant and member of Davenport, Iowa, Local 431. Dean recently attended a chain meeting in Kansas City, Mo., along with stewards from all over the country, who work at the major food processing, manufacturing and meatpacking chains. “It’d be ludicrous for our plant of 105 people to try to negotiate by ourselves with a company like Hormel that has more than 8,000 employees,” he says. “With the growth of our major employers into nationwide operators, bargaining plant by plant just can’t happen any more. The chain meetings give us a chance to share information and coordinate tactics with brothers and sisters in other plants.”