WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama singled out office supply company Staples Inc as undercutting his healthcare reform law and said large corporations should not use the health insurance issue as an excuse for cutting wages, the news website BuzzFeed reported.
"It's one thing when you've got a mom-and-pop store who can't afford to provide paid sick leave or health insurance or minimum wage to workers ... but when I hear large corporations that make billions of dollars in profits trying to blame our interest in providing health insurance as an excuse for cutting back workers’ wages, shame on them,” Obama said in an interview with BuzzFeed.
The Affordable Care Act requires companies with more than 50 employees to pay for health insurance for people who work 30 hours a week or more. Reuters has reported that some businesses are keeping staffing numbers below 50 or cutting the work week to less than 30 hours to avoid providing employee health insurance.
Staples, the No. 1 U.S. office supplies retailer, has told its employees not to work more than 25 hours per week, according to a Buzzfeed report on Monday.
Staples Chief Executive Officer Ronald Sargent brought home $10.8 million in total compensation in 2013. The company reported net profit of $620.1 million through Feb. 1, 2014.
"There is no reason for an employer who is not currently providing health care to their workers to discourage them from either getting health insurance on the job or being able to avail themselves of the Affordable Care Act,” Obama said in the interview Tuesday.
"I haven’t looked at Staples stock lately or what the compensation of the CEO is, but I suspect that they could well afford to treat their workers favorably and give them some basic financial security, and if they can't, then they should be willing to allow those workers to get the Affordable Care Act without cutting wages," Obama said.
Staples shot back on Wednesday, saying the company's policy on part-time workers was more than a decade old and not a response to the 2010 health care law, known as Obamacare.
"Unfortunately, the president appears not to have all the facts," Staples spokesman Kirk Saville said in a statement. "It's unfortunate that the president is attacking a company that provides more than 85,000 jobs and is a major tax payer."
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce criticized Obama's remarks, which it said were based on "incomplete facts."
"We're happy to see the president finally acknowledge that some of his policies are far too costly for mom-and-pop shops," said Blair Latoff Holms, spokeswoman for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "It's unfortunate this administration continues to publicly challenge companies and in this instance apparently with incomplete facts."
Nearly 7.5 million people have signed up for 2015 Obamacare health plans through HealthCare.gov with demand increasing as the Feb. 15 enrollment deadline approaches, according to government figures.
Staples and No. 2 office retailer Office Depot Inc announced last week a $6.3 billion plan to join forces to compete against big box stores and online rivals.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Sruthi Ramakrishnan, Martin Howell and Julia Edwards; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by W Simon, Bernard Orr)