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Walmart to hike pay for 425,000, or nearly a third of its U.S. workforce

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Walmart — the nation's largest private employer — is hiking pay for 425,000 workers, or nearly a third of its U.S. workforce of 1.5 million. 

Store workers tasked in digital and stocking positions that proved particularly crucial during the pandemic will earn more starting March 13, with their starting hourly rates going to $13 to $19 based on location and market, the retailer said.

That includes employees who fetch items from store shelves for online orders to be picked up or delivered, workers "central" to fourth-quarter sales of just under $100 billion, Walmart U.S. Chief Executive John Furner wrote Thursday in a post to employees. 

The retailer's starting minimum pay remains $11 an hour, but the increase will bring Walmart's average pay overall to more than $15 an hour, up from more than $14 an hour. 

The retailer's increase comes as the White House and Congress weigh hiking the federal minimum wage that's held at $7.25 since 2009. While not endorsing proposals to raise base pay to $15 an hour, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon has called for Congress to increase the federal minimum, which in June of 2019 he called  "too low."

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Walmart's disinclination to follow in the footsteps of competitors Amazon and Target, each of which pay a minimum of $15 an hour, drew a strong rebuke from labor activists. 

"Most of us cashiers along with hundreds of thousands of others are once again left out of the raises Walmart is giving," Mendy Hughes, a Walmart cashier and a leader with United for Respect, said in an emailed statement. "Being a cashier in the COVID-19 pandemic is among the most dangerous jobs there is," said Hughes, who has worked at Walmart 11 years and earns $11.85 an hour.

While the pandemic has proved devastating for many retailers, business has boomed for others, including Walmart. 

The company benefited from having already poured money into e-commerce years before the pandemic hit. Online ordering has since taken off as Americans began staying indoors to protect themselves from the coronavirus. Walmart's U.S. e-commerce sales rose 79% in the year just ended.

Beyond spending more on labor, Walmart says it plans to invest about $14 billion in 2021 on supply-chain efficiency and automation. 

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