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A federal judge struck down a Maryland law yesterday that would have effectively forced the nation's largest employer, Wal-Mart Stores, to spend more money on health care for its employees here.
U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz ruled that the "Wal-Mart Law," which won overwhelming support in the General Assembly this year, ran afoul of a 32-year-old federal statute intended to protect corporations from having to navigate a patchwork of benefits requirements from state to state.
Wal-Mart spokeswoman Sarah Clark said yesterday that the company welcomed the judge's ruling. She said the law, which called on [four] large companies to spend at least 8 percent of their payroll on health benefits, would have done "nothing to control the cost of health care or improve access to health care."
Over the past year, the retail giant has announced several changes to its benefits package, including a reduction of the two-year waiting period for part-time workers to become eligible for benefits; an expansion of its cheapest health plan, which costs $11 a month; and a provision allowing children of part-time workers to become eligible for coverage. In addition, Wal-Mart is opening low-cost health clinics at select stores for customers and employees.
[Judge Motz wrote in] a 32-page opinion that the federal Employment Retirement Income Security Act prevails when determining the types of health and pension plans companies can offer. It also allows companies to create a uniform system of benefits across several states.
The Maryland law, Motz wrote, "violates 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."
Wal-Mart: Fire Your Greeters (Jan. 12, 2006)
Maryland Wal-Mart Update (Jan. 14, 2006)
Unions Are Batting Zero with the Wal-Mart Tax
The court's opinion granting summary judgement (pdf)
Technorati Tags: Health Care, Law, Maryland, Wal-Mart