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Bernie Sanders to Walmart: Your workers need higher wages

Sanders struggling to attract new supporters
  • Senator Bernie Sanders will attend Walmart's annual shareholders meeting to deliver a message about wages.
  • The Democratic presidential candidate says he wants to "end the greed of the wealthiest family in America."
  • Walmart defends its treatment of employees and hopes Sanders doesn't make the meeting a "campaign stop."

The thorn in Walmart's side named Bernie Sanders is digging deeper. The senator from Vermont and Democratic presidential candidate is taking his call for the nation's biggest employer to raise wages for its 1.5 million U.S. workers to Bentonville, Arkansas.

Sanders plans to be among those attending Walmart's annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday, when he'll introduce a floor proposal to add hourly workers to its corporate board. The idea comes from Carolyn Davis, an 11-year Walmart employee, according to United for Respect, a workers' advocacy group.

Sanders took to social media to detail his travel plans. "I'm going to the Walmart shareholders meeting tomorrow to end the greed of the wealthiest family in America," Sanders said Tuesday in a tweet. "Walmart workers deserve a living wage and seats on the board." 

An advocate of raising the federal minimum wage to $15 from $7.25, Sanders has frequently criticized retailers and fast-food companies for not paying employees enough to live on. In the past he has called out large companies including Amazon and McDonald's for reaping massive profits while paying wages that leave many workers dependent on taxpayer-funded public assistance programs.

Much of the Walmart family fortune -- roughly 1.5 billion Walmart shares -- is controlled by the three children of co-founder Sam Walton, who have a combined net worth of about $141.5 billion, according to Bloomberg. Other Walton heirs hold $676.9 million worth of company shares, with the family's overall wealth coming to $175.2 billion as of mid-February. A Walmart spokesperson declined to comment on Sanders' tweet about the Walmart family's "greed."

Campaign trail

Under pressure from Sanders and labor advocates, Amazon in October 2018 hiked its minimum hourly pay to $15, with CEO Jeff Bezos declaring "we listened to our critics." Walmart raised its starting wage to $11 an hour at the beginning of 2018 and earlier this year began giving U.S. hourly workers paid time off, but it hasn't budged on demands that it match Amazon's $15 an hour minimum.

Sanders also appeared with McDonald's workers staging a protest that coincided with the fast-food company's annual meeting last month. Other Democratic White House hopefuls also marched with McDonald's workers, including Cory Booker, Julian Castro and Jay Inslee. And Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, recently voiced concern over whether laid-off Sears workers would be getting promised severance payments amid the legal squabbling between Eddie Lampert and a group of the retailer's creditors.  

Walmart, however, defended how its workers fare. "We hope Senator Sanders 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," a Walmart spokesperson emailed. Two-thirds of Walmart's managers began as hourly workers, the spokesperson added.

Wall Street bonuses outpace minimum wage

Retail reality

Another shareholder proposal would require Walmart to "formalize the board of directors' oversight responsibility" of its sexual harassment protocols, review its policies and report back on the issue. Filed by United for Respect, the proposal cites research by the Center for American Progress that found retailers garnered the second-highest number of harassment complaints in the private sector. 

Walmart believes its existing policies and training are sufficient, a spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch.

The company's opposition to the proposal on sexual harassment drew the support of one proxy advisory firm, Glass Lewis, but not from another. Institutional Shareholder Services recommended a vote for "additional information on the company's sexual harassment policies [that] could help shareholders better assess the company's management of related risks."

Glass Lewis did take issue with Walmart's executive compensation, finding a "sizable disconnect between pay and performance." Conversely, ISS endorsed a company proposal on executive compensation, saying it found Walmart's executive pay and performance to be reasonably aligned. However, it added, "continued monitoring of pay outcomes is warranted."

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon netted almost $24 million over the last year as the retailer's sales increased 3% and online revenues surged by double digits.

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