Democrats to Wal-Mart: It is time to pay up

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Big box retailers like Wal-Mart would be forced to provide better health-care coverage for their New York employees under a just-introduced bill by state Sen. Diane Savino (D-Bay Ridge).

Following efforts in other states to crack down on Wal-Mart, the bill would require a $3-per-hour health-care contribution by any company with more than 500 employees and facilities of 10,000 square feet or any company that occupies 100,000 square feet, with five percent used for groceries.

Savino and colleague Eric Schneiderman (D-Upper West Side) unveiled the bill Sunday.

“I believe that the largest, most profitable organization in the world, at a minimum, should provide basic health insurance,” said Savino.

Wal-Mart pays its sales associates, the store’s most common position, an average of $8.23 an hour, and $13,861 annually. That’s more than $700 below the poverty line for a family of three.

The company provides health care for 48 percent of its workers.

Other states have recently proposed similar bills and nearly 30 other states are expected to introduce them this session. Maryland was the first to approve legislation earlier this month.

“It may take us more than one session to get this bill passed because I can’t imagine Governor Pataki would sign it,” Savino said. “But I’m young. I’ve got time on my side,” she said.

Wal-Mart, which famously set up a “war room” last year to rapidly respond to criticism of its policies, did not respond to questions about the bill.

While popular nationwide for its low prices, Wal-Mart has become the third rail of New York City politics.

The company has made several attempts to open a store within the five boroughs, but has been unable, thanks to opposition by local unions and elected officials.

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