Sanders demands Walmart pay workers $15 per hour
Sen. Bernard Sanders on Wednesday confronted Walmart’s board of directors and demanded the colossal retailer pay workers at least $15 an hour, a dramatic escalation of his crusade against corporate greed and income inequality.
The spectacle of Mr. Sanders standing before the board at the annual shareholders meeting in Arkansas immediately thrust his far-left agenda into the spotlight and energized his run for the Democratic presidential nomination.
“Despite the incredible wealth of its owners, Walmart pays many of its employees starvation wages, wages that are so low that many of these employees are forced to rely on government programs like food stamps, Medicaid [and] public housing in order to survive,” he said.
“The American people are sick and tired of subsidizing the greed of some of the largest and most profitable corporations in this county,” he continued. “They are also outraged by the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality in America as demonstrated by the CEO of Walmart making a thousand times more than the average Walmart employee.”
He delivered the jab while CEO Doug McMillon was in the room.
Mr. Sanders, who on the stump frequently targets Walmart and the Walton family that owns a controlling interest in the company, was able to confront the board by offering a resolution at the annual meeting in Rogers, Arkansas.
The Vermont senator presented the resolution as a proxy for Cat Davis, a Walmart employee and labor activist who filed the action. It would require the company to give hourly workers an opportunity to serve on the board.
The aggressive move by Mr. Sanders distinguished him from the rest of the crowded Democratic race. It also fueled his quest to overtake frontrunner Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the establishment favorite who has made labor union support a cornerstone of his campaign.
Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist who works with labor unions, called Mr. Sanders’ Walmart appearance “a very good hit.”
“The $15 minimum wage is very popular with the Democratic primary electorate and it is great political theater,” he said. “Sanders beards the lion in its own den. It also dings Biden and drains off some union support from the former VP.”
The stunt also gave Mr. Sanders a leg up on primary rival Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who is vying for the same far-left, anti-big business voters.
Ms. Warren has proposed a plan that would require corporations to let employees pick 40% of board members.
At the shareholders meeting, Mr. Sanders noted the company made a $10 billion profit and gave Mr. McMillon a $20 million compensation package.
He pointed out that other mega-retailers such as Amazon, Costco and Target had already bowed to demands to raise wages.
“Walmart can strike a blow against corporate greed and a grotesque level of income and wealth inequality that exists in our country,” he said. “Please do the right thing. Please pass this resolution.”
Minutes earlier, Mr. McMillon detailed how the company has been increasing its starting wage to $11 per hour and providing new benefits for workers, including paid leave for new mothers.
“We are not perfect, but together we are listening, learning and changing,” said McMillon, apparently directing his comments at Mr. Sanders.
Mr. McMillon also said the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour was too low, and he called on Congress to adopt a “thoughtful plan” to increase it.
Workers and activist groups have targeted Walmart for years. Mr. McMillon is credited with increasing wages after he took the helm in 2014.
The increase of the starting wage to $9 an hour in 2015 cost Walmart $1 billion a year. The increase affected about 500,000 of Walmart’s 1.5 million employees in the U.S.
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