By Jim Siegel
As holiday shoppers rush the stores, some Democratic lawmakers want to shine a light on how many retail and food-service workers get public assistance despite their employment.
They also want to force employers to pay workers triple time when asking them to work on Thanksgiving, as more retailers open their doors on the holiday.
Rep. Robert F. Hagan isn’t usually successful with his legislation, especially in the GOP-controlled Legislature, but the Youngstown Democrat is persistent. For the sixth time, he has introduced a bill that would require the state to publish an annual report listing how many people working for the state’s top 50 employers receive Medicaid, welfare or food stamps.
The bill would “shine a spotlight on how corporate citizens prop up employee benefits at taxpayer expense,” Hagan said.
A state report this spring found that the number of workers on Medicaid at the state’s 50 biggest employers increased 27 percent since 2007. Wal-Mart had nearly 18,000 employees on Medicaid, followed by 14,000 at McDonald’s. Kroger, Wendy’s and Bob Evans had a combined 17,421 workers on Medicaid.
“People need to know where their tax dollars are going,” Hagan said. “The egregious lack of corporate responsibility to treat workers fairly is compounded by the fact that many of these companies receive taxpayer-funded subsidies in this state.”
Wal-Mart officials noted that its average Ohio employee makes $12.69 an hour, and more than half work full time.
That full-time pay rate would put a family of three at 135 percent of the federal poverty level.
Hagan and Rep. Mike Foley, D-Cleveland, also pointed to recent media reports about employees of a Walmart store in Canton who were having a food drive to help workers there enjoy a nice Thanksgiving dinner.
“We want full awareness of the benefits we’re giving to some of the wealthiest and richest corporations and families in our society,” Foley said.
Hagan’s most-recent attempt to create the public-assistance list, introduced in 2011, died after one hearing. It also didn’t pass when Democrats controlled the Ohio House in 2010 — it got out of committee but died when it failed to get 50 votes on the House floor.
In the past, GOP critics have said the proposal demonizes businesses that often employ part-time workers in entry-level jobs.
“Retail jobs, by design, are not meant to be long-term jobs,” said Gordon Gough, president of the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants. “They are jobs meant to subsidize income or get you by to your next job.”
Lamenting the “current brand of capitalism” in the country where income inequality has continued to grow, Foley said he will introduce a bill requiring companies to pay triple wages to those who work on Thanksgiving.
Since he first mentioned the idea, Foley said, he has been hearing from a number of people who say they are unable to spend time with their families “while their employers are making huge profits.”