Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders came face-to-face with Walmart’s corporate leadership to urge the retail giant to raise its minimum wage to at least $15 an hour. “The issue that we are dealing with today is pretty simple,” Sanders said during a brief speech at Walmart’s annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday in Arkansas.
“Walmart is the largest private employer in America and is owned by the Walton family, the wealthiest family in the United States,” said Sanders. “And yet, despite the incredible wealth of its owner, 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.”
Sanders’ 2020 campaign has reminded voters of his long track record as an activist, which dates back to the Civil Right Era, while he continues to highlight his stand to Democrats angered by growing corporate profits at a time of increasing economic inequality.
After Sanders’ speech and the meeting, he was asked if he thought Walmart CEO Doug McMillon received his message. “No, I don’t,” the Vermont senator told CNN’s Ryan Nobles. “I feel like if he got the message, what he would say is we are going to do what many of our competitors are doing — what Amazon has already done, Costco, what Target is moving toward, and raise that minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour.”
However, McMillon stated in his remarks earlier in the morning that he wants Congress to boost the federal minimum wage. The current $7.25 minimum wage is “too low,” Walmart Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon said Wednesday at the company’s annual meeting. It’s “time for Congress to put a thoughtful plan in place” to boost it, McMillon said.
“Well, that’s fine,” Sanders said afterward. “(Congressional Democrats) are working on it. I led the effort in the Senate to raise the federal minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour,” before noting Republican opposition. “What we need,” Sanders added, “is Walmart, the largest private employer in this country, to take a bold step forward and say all of their employees should live with dignity.”
McMillon previously expressed support for an increase in the national minimum wage, though this is the first time in more than a decade that a Walmart CEO has specifically demanded new legislation on the matter. McMillon said federal lawmakers should take into account cost-of-living increases “to avoid unintended consequences” when considering a change.
“It’s clear by our actions and those of other companies that the federal minimum wage is lagging behind,” McMillon said before Walmart shareholders and employees during its annual meeting.
“All we are saying to Walmart and the Walton family is to pay your workers a living wage,” Sanders said, “and that living wage is $15 an hour.” Target plans to reach that threshold by the end of 2020, as it has already boosted its minimum wage to $13 an hour. Amazon boosted starting pay for its warehouse workers to $15 an hour last year.