More on the Wal-Mart Bill

By July 20, 2006General

As we noted yesterday, a federal judge struck down Maryland’s ill-conceived — and union-backed — “Wal-Mart bill,” taking the unusual step of granting a summary judgment, in essence saying that the State didn’t have a strong enough case to proceed to trial. Ouch. Sorry, but we still get a kick out of the fact that the Assistant Attorney General of Maryland, Gary Kuc, an officer of the court, embarrassed himself by arguing before the court that the Wal-Mart bill did not target Wal-Mart. As the Court noted in its opinion (which we’ve now had a chance to read), “When enacting the law, the Maryland General Assembly anticipated that only Wal-Mart would be affected by the Act…” Yeah, we knew that. Everybody knew that but Gary Kuc, apparently.

Interestingly, the judge did not decide the case on Constitutional grounds but rather on the issue of ERISA pre-emption. ERISA is a federal pre-emption statute. As the Court said yesterday, the so-called “Fair Share Act” — the Wal-Mart bill’s official name — :

“[V]iolates ERISA’s fundamental purpose of permitting multi-state employers to maintain nationwide health and welfare plans, providing uniform nationwide benefits and permitting uniform national
administration.”

Of course, the decision has brought out the cranks and the high dudgeon. Said Wal-Mart Watch, a union group that’s been trying unsuccessfully to organize Wal-Mart, “This debate has accomplished our goal of drawing added scrutiny to Wal-Mart’s unaffordable and inaccessible employee heath care plan.” Really? So this was all just a PR stunt? Hmmmm…. We thought it was legislation.

At least you’d expect this from the partisan hacks. More surprisingly, in this WaPo story, Maryland Senate President Mike Miller said this ruling from the Court was “”nothing less than a matter of ‘good versus evil.'” A matter of good vs. evil? Hardly. This was a blatant attempt by unions – frustrated over their abject lack of success in organizing Wal-Mart — to get back at Wal-Mart. If Mike Miller believes otherwise, he’s not very smart. Surely he’s not kowtowing to the unions.

Finally, as to why we care, this was just bad legislation, pure and simple. Our member companies, all of ’em, near as we can tell, provide health care — voluntarily — to their employees. When the government starts getting involved in mandating coverage, it’s a bad thing, just is. If they can do it for employers larger than 10,000 employees, they can do it for employers larger than 10 employees. And don’t think that hasn’t been considered.

So mark one up for common sense. Regardless of how you feel about Wal-Mart, this was a bad bill for business — all business — and for Maryland. As for AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, who saw the “Fair Share” movement as his ticket to reversing his legacy of membership decline, looks like he’ll have to find another ticket.