Statewide Tour to Close the "Walmart Loophole" Kicks Off in West Sacramento
By Steve Smith
Walmart shoppers probably didn't expect to be greeted Friday morning at 5 AM by a lively group of taxpayers protesting the "Walmart Loophole," which allows large companies like Walmart to avoid their responsibilities to pay their fair share for their workers' health care. But that's exactly what they encountered in West Sacramento.
About 30 demonstrators launched a statewide tour aimed at educating shoppers and the media about Walmart's practice of paying its workers so little that they are pushed into taxpayer-funded programs like Medi-Cal. The group also handed out information about AB 880 (Gomez), which would mandate that the state's largest and most profitable companies pay their fair share when their workers end up on taxpayer-funded Medi-Cal.
On Friday, demonstrators posted a "bill" for money owed to California taxpayers by retailers like Walmart. Photo credit: California Labor FederationThe bill is a fix to a growing problem. Walmart and other large companies are cutting their workers' hours and wages to skirt their responsibility under the Affordable Care Act to provide affordable health care or pay a penalty. If these large companies reduce workers' pay to poverty levels, the workers go on Medi-Cal, and Walmart avoids the penalty. As a result, taxpayers have to pick up the tab. It's called the "Walmart Loophole," and Friday morning's demonstrators said it must be closed.
Barbara Aldridge works for Walmart in Placerville. She's seen her hours erode over the last year to the point that she must apply for public assistance to obtain health coverage for her and her son.
"We live paycheck to paycheck. I make $12.05 an hour, but of course, I've been there for 8 years, and with my hours getting cut it's a hard struggle. If we get the hours to qualify for [health coverage], we make so little that it's a decision that's really hard to make. Winter clothes or health benefits? Food on the table or health benefits? I'm tired of struggling."
The protesters delivered a $32 million invoice to Walmart, representing the cost of Walmart shifting its health care responsibilities onto taxpayers every year. Walmart management rejected the invoice, steeling the resolve of today's demonstrators to pass AB 880 and close the Walmart Loophole.
Demonstrators are headed to Stockton and Fresno next as part of a statewide "Close the Walmart Loophole" tour. AB 880 passed the Assembly Health Committee last week and will be heard in the Appropriations Committee as early as this week. The bill is sponsored by the California Labor Federation and the United Food and Commercial Workers.
Steve Smith is Communications Director at the California Labor Federation, which represents more than 2 million union members in manufacturing, retail, construction, hospitality, public sector, health care, entertainment and other industries in the state of California. This article was originally published at Labor's Edge.