By Rosana Garcia
On April 15, Tax Day, low wage workers rallied at the Capitol to support a livable wage and the “McWalmart Bill” (Senate Bill 1044: An Act Concerning The Recoupment Of State Costs Attributable To Low Wage Employers). This action was part of Fight for $15, a larger national movement that was the “largest protest by low-wage workers in US history.”
The Connecticut bill would create a Low-Wage Employer Fee, where companies with more than 500 employees would be assessed $1 per hour for every employee that makes less than $15/hour. This fee will help underwrite child care and health care benefits state taxpayers provide because these low wage employees cannot afford it on their own.
But what does the fight for fair wages have to do with health and health care?
The idea that working will lead to self-sufficiency, is called into question by the many people who work full time but do not make a livable wage. Often low-wage workers can only meet their basic living expenses by supplementing their inadequate income with help from the state. Programs they rely on include Medicaid (HUSKY), SNAP (formerly food stamps), and child care (either through sliding scale programs like Head Start, or financial help to pay other child care arrangements). These programs have real costs for the state and are necessary to ensure the well-being of all Connecticut residents.
When taxpayers end up paying the bill for these programs because large employers refuse to pay a livable wage, the bottom line is that taxpayers contribute to the profits of large corporations like Walmart and McDonalds. Yet these two behemoths are not the only ones who pay low wages. Low wage workers clean our hospitals, take care of our elderly and developmentally disabled, teach preschool, and cook our food—over 40% of US workers make less than $15 an hour.
Americans for Tax Fairness point out that “the four primary Walton heirs saw their fortune increase by $20.9 billion between March 2014 and March 2015. For about half this money – $10.8 billion – the Waltons could give every one of Walmart’s 1.3 million U.S. employees a $5/hour raise and still pocket $10 billion” (emphasis added).
With impending cuts to the HUSKY program for parents and pregnant women, why shouldn’t the state recoup some of the costs that large employers force on the state by not paying a livable wage? Why should we, the taxpayers, accept cuts in our safety net because large employers don’t do their part?
The Foundation supports health care justice, and the vision of an accessible, affordable, high quality health care system in Connecticut that works to make all people healthier. In our mission we state that:
“We believe that health care is a fundamental right and that our work is part of a broader movement for social and economic justice.”
All economic justice fights are connected. The “McWalmart Bill,” and the larger Fight for 15, is about ensuring that all people are able to work and live and thrive in our state.
As a social worker, I follow a Code of Ethics that states: “Social workers should engage in social and political action that seeks to ensure that all people have equal access to the resources, employment, services, and opportunities they require to meet their basic human needs and to develop fully.”
This is why I work for health care justice, because it is part of ensuring social and economic justice. We are all better off when we are all able to live healthy, productive lives.
Coverage and related resources:
Fight for $15 Reaches State Capitol (CT NewsJunkie, Christine Stewart, April 16, 2015)
Labor Advocates Back Bill to Fine Large Employers Paying Less Than $15 an Hour (CT NewsJunkie, Christine Stewart, April 9, 2015)
5 things to know about Medcaid spending CT (CT Mirror, Arielle Levin Becker, February 12, 2015)
Malloy would tax business, cut services to balance budget (CT Mirror, Keith M. Phaneuf & Mark Pazniokas, February 18, 2015)
The Walmart Tax Subsidy (Americans for Tax Fairness, April 2015)