Wal-Mart Welfare

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On Sunday local union activists will take off on a 5-day, 240 mile bike tour of Southern Minnesota to raise awareness about Wal-Mart's crappy health care coverage. Many of the retailing behemoth's 17,000 Minnesota employees must rely on taxpayer-subsidized insurance.

Bernie Hesse, an organizer for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 789, and Bob Adams, a baker at the Midway neighborhood Rainbow Foods in St. Paul, are leading the trek. Dubbed the "Big Box Worker Dignity Tour," there will be stops in Faribault, Owatonna, Red Wing, Rochester, and West St. Paul--all of which have Wal-Mart outlets.

A bill that would have required the state to disclose how many workers at large corporations receive state-subsidized health insurance was removed from the final Health and Human Services bill as part of the recent budget compromise. In other states that have similar disclosure requirements, such as Wisconsin, Wal-Mart has topped the list of offenders.

The retailing behemoth lobbied heavily against the measure, sending in corporate executives from Bentonville, Arkansas to buttonhole legislators. "I'm sure that the Republicans demanded that it be removed from the omnibus bill," says Hesse.

Hesse--notorious for his dedication to malted-beverage consumption as well as to economic-justice issues--is not making any promises about whether he'll actually finish the trip. "I'm opening a betting pool on whether I a) die, b) finish, or c) turn into a fitness guru after this," he says.

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