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City Council Overrides Mayoral Veto on Big-Box Medical Insurance Bill

NEW YORK -- The New York City Council yesterday overrode a veto by Mayor Mike Bloomberg of the Health Care Security Act, which requires large supermarkets and big-box stores selling groceries to pay for a portion of their employees' health care.

Bloomberg's veto message said that the bill is pre-empted by a federal law regulating health insurance plans provided by private businesses. Other arguments against the bill maintain that its goal is to keep such nonunion companies as Wal-Mart out of the city. At the present time there are no Wal-Mart stores in the five boroughs of New York City.

The council passed the Heath Care Security Act in August. Those in favor of the bill say it would not only help many working-class New Yorkers make ends meet but would also lighten the burden on taxpayers who must pay for Medicaid expenses and hospital visits for uninsured New York City residents.

Unless the Bloomberg administration decides to litigate, the legislation will become effective in 90 days. Under the measure, food retailers running stores that are at least 10,000 square feet or have a minimum of 35 employees have to contribute to their employees' health benefits at a rate of between $2.50 and $3 an hour for every worker, the average rate among food retailers in the city that already provide benefits. Food retailers not in compliance will face fines.

Christine Quinn, a council member and the bill's lead sponsor, noted in published reports that the purpose of the legislation was to protect responsible businesses that otherwise would have trouble competing with those stores that don't offer benefits to their employees. According to Quinn, the bill will be beneficial to the approximately 6,000 low-paid employees at such small New York City business as Gourmet Garage and Garden of Eden.

However, Philip Serghini, community affairs manager for Wal-Mart's Northeast division, told the New York Sun newspaper, "We...think it's really a way to prevent us from entering the New York market and to provide groceries."

Several grocers in the city, among them Gristedes, Pathmark, and Whole Foods, currently offer health benefits to employees.

In addition to unions, groups supporting the legislation include New York University's Brennan Center for Justice; Jobs for Justice, a nonprofit organization; and the American Cancer Society.
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