Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) says the American people are "very tired of grotesque levels of income inequality," with Walmart being one of the biggest offenders.
Sanders has been invited by the Walmart workers' rights group United for Respect to serve as its proxy at the company's annual shareholders meeting Wednesday in Arkansas. In an interview Tuesday with USA Today, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate blasted Walmart's aversion to raising its minimum wage for workers to $15. "When you have a situation where the wealthiest family in America, which is the Walton family of Walmart, has $174 billion in wealth, it is really absurd and unacceptable that they are paying their workers starvation wages," he said.
United for Respect wants Walmart, which has roughly 1.5 million employees, to raise the company's minimum wage to $15 an hour and add a worker's representative to the board of directors. Due to low wages, Walmart's workers receive an estimated $6.2 billion in public assistance, including food stamps and subsidized housing, the progressive Americans for Tax Fairness reported in 2014. "The taxpayers of this country — the working class, middle class — shouldn't have to be subsidizing the wealthiest family in this country," Sanders said.
Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove told USA Today that over the last four years, the company has increased its starting wage from $7.25 to $11 an hour, paying an average of $17.50 per hour in wages, bonuses, and benefits. Catherine Garcia
Walmart employees routinely show up at the company's annual shareholders meeting to push for better working conditions. This year, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is taking their place.
The massive retail chain has been a focus of Sanders' pro-worker push — he even introduced the pointedly titled Stop WALMART Act to Congress last November. Now, the 2020 candidate is arguing that hourly Walmart workers should have a guaranteed seat at the shareholders meeting each year, and he'll make his case right to those shareholders' faces, The Washington Post reports.
Walmart's annual meeting of "a dozen wealthy executives from companies like McDonald's and NBCUniversal" is coming up on June 5 in Bentonville, Arkansas, the Post writes. That's where Sanders will tell shareholders that "if hourly workers at Walmart were well represented on its board, I doubt you would see the CEO of Walmart making over a thousand times more than its average worker," he tells the Post. Walmart pharmacy technician Cat Davis introduced the proposal, which reads that "hourly associates can guide a more fair, inclusive, and equitable corporate ecosystem that bridges differences," and invited Sanders to deliver the message.
Sanders' Stop WALMART Act, introduced in Congress in November, would stop large employers from buying back stock unless they introduced a $15 minimum wage, gave workers 7 days of paid sick leave, and made sure the highest paid employees earn no more than 150 times what the lowest paid are making. Walmart unveiled a revamped paid leave program in February, but Sanders quickly decried it as "not good enough."
Update 11:45 a.m. ET: A Walmart spokesperson issued a statement reading: “We're proud of the fact that 75 percent of our U.S. management associates began their career as frontline hourly associates. If Senator Sanders attends, we hope he will approach his visit not as a campaign stop, but as a constructive opportunity to learn about the many ways we're working to provide increased economic opportunity, mobility and benefits to our associates — as well as our widely recognized leadership on environmental sustainability." Kathryn Krawczyk