From NewsDay (Long Island) 9/28:
Suffolk County, New York lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a bill requiring large non-unionized grocery retailers to set aside money to pay for employee health-care costs. If it becomes law, Suffolk would be the first municipality in the nation with such a requirement. The measure passed 17-1, with more than enough votes to override a veto if Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy chooses not to support it.
Companies such as Wal-Mart say the law would be unfair and would drive up the cost of doing business. Those costs, the store said, could be passed on to consumers. "We are concerned that the health care bill passed today, which does nothing to provide health care to those people without insurance, is a kind of hidden tax that runs counter to Wal-Mart's commitment to everyday low prices," Philip Serghini, a Wal-Mart spokesman.
The measure requires companies to allocate at least $3 for every hour an employee worked and the money would go to pay employees' health care costs. Although some expect a court challenge, Paul K. Sonn, a lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice in Manhattan, said the law was crafted so it doesn't run afoul of a federal law prohibiting local and state governments from requiring private employers to purchase health insurance for their employees.
How companies spend the money is up to them. The measure affects retail stores with 25,000 square feet or more devoted to groceries, or those that have 100,000 or more square feet with at least 3 percent used for groceries, or more than $1 billion a year nationally in revenue, with 20 percent coming from groceries.
Sponsors say that would include Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Kmart, CVS, Target and BJ's Wholesale Club. Stores with unionized workers, such as King Kullen and Stop & Shop, would be exempt.
Allan Binder (R-Huntington), the only legislator who voted against the bill, criticized his Republican colleagues for supporting the measure, which he says would cause businesses to move out of the county or not come at all, reducing sales tax revenues. "We are acting more like Democrats. We don't know who we are anymore," Binder said yesterday in an interview after the votes were cast.