America's retailers announced last week that they aren't especially keen to follow the steel, airline and perhaps auto industries into bankruptcy court. If Big Labor really wants a fight over mandated health insurance, it now has one.
The announcement came in the form of two federal lawsuits filed by the Retail Industry Leaders Association against the state of Maryland and Suffolk County, New York. At issue are the "Wal-Mart" laws that both jurisdictions recently passed, which would require a few large companies to pay more for their workers' health care. The lawsuits argue the statutes are "discriminatory," which may be the legal understatement of the year since both target only a few employers.
This is an unusual show of solidarity for the 400 or so member retail trade group, and it suggests more companies are figuring out that organized labor's campaign against Wal-Mart is merely a warm-up to a broader assault. Thanks to the exhortations of the AFL-CIO, some 30 states are now considering so-called fair-share health-care laws that force companies to devote a certain percentage of their payroll to health care. The common denominator is that all of these laws largely single out non-union employers.
The union strategy is to force any competitive, non-unionized company to incur the same labor-induced costs as their own beleaguered employers. Unionized grocers such as Safeway, Albertson's and Kroger have been losing the fight against their lower-cost competitors, and shedding jobs in the process. In the past decade, more than two dozen supermarket operators have sought bankruptcy court protection or liquidated. The union goal is to stop this bleeding by dragging the Wal-Marts and Costcos to their cost level.
That agenda was clear in the Maryland and Suffolk County laws, which made no pretense of raising health-care benefits for all workers. Instead, the Maryland statute required employers with more than 10,000 employees to spend at least 8% of its payroll on health care. Only one company fit the bill: Wal-Mart. The Suffolk County law also only applies to large grocery stores, and it specifically exempts union employers.
The good news is that the judiciary isn't likely to let such legal gerrymandering stand...
A also liked these reader responses to the article:
Ween Us Off the Benefit
Jud Spangler - West Chester, Pa.
The problem with the employer-provided health insurance model is that it has become a nothing but an addictive drug with awful side effects. Anyone with common sense would say it was crazy to provide insurance coverage for common necessities, like groceries. Can you imagine a $10 copay at the supermarket? The price of food would skyrocket and our choices would be restricted. How about filing claims for oil changes at Jiffy Lube?
Yet this is exactly what has happened to health care. We should be buying health insurance the way we buy auto, life and home insurance--for the occasional catastrophic incident that would place undue strain on our finances--not for routine medical care. And what about the poor who would struggle to afford any care? First of all, the cost would come down because we would de-fang the decades-long runaway health care inflation. Second, you could extend the welfare safety net to cover them. When equilibrium was restored to the health care market, we'd all be paying less, more people would have coverage for what they couldn't afford on their own, and insurance companies would return to their original mission instead of managing health care.
Unfortunately, no one in positions of leadership, least of all liberals in state government, recognize that they are "pushers" who'd rather keep us addicted to a system that will eventually collapse.
Making the Problem Worse
Carole Kauffman - Addison, Texas
When I first entered the workforce in 1968, employer-paid health care was almost unheard of. A few large companies had it, and in those cases it was considered a benefit that was intended to lure good employees to those companies. Somehow since then this "benefit" has mutated into an expectation that employers will pay for health insurance, and now apparently this expectation/demand has been taken to the next level and is being legislated into law.
Business owners should have no more responsibility to pay for an employee's health insurance than they would have to make that same employee's car payments. In addition, I think that over the years, the easy availability of non-emergency health services through employer-paid health insurance has greatly increased the demand for those services and driven the overall cost of health insurance into the stratosphere. To those who suffer the expense of private health insurance (and I am one), we can thank the concept of employer-paid health insurance for much of the problem.