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Walmart shareholders’ meeting – wages, vests - and Bernie Sanders

A wide range of topics were covered at Walmart’s annual shareholders’ meeting.

The June 5 meeting, held at Walmart’s Bentonville, Ark. headquarters, featured CEO Doug McMillon calling for an increase to the federal minimum wage. The discount giant also introduced a new vest that store associates will wear and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) addressed the audience with some pointed remarks.

Following is a brief recap of these meeting highlights.

Minimum wage
In his prepared opening remarks, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon cited his company’s increase in its own minimum pay rate by 50% during the past four years in a call for the federal government to raise the floor on wages.

“It’s clear by our actions and those of other companies that the federal minimum wage is lagging behind,” said McMillion. “$7.25 is too low. It’s time for Congress to put a thoughtful plan in place to increase the minimum wage. Any plan should take into account phasing and cost of living differences to avoid unintended consequences.”

In April, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos publicly issued a challenge for other retailers to match Amazon’s pay and benefits. While Bezos did not mention Walmart by name, on the same day the discounter tweeted a reply, “Hey retail competitors out there (you know who you are) how about paying your taxes?” and shared a link to an article about Amazon paying $0 in federal taxes on more than $11 billion in profits last year.

In a second tweet that day, Walmart stated the majority of its warehouse make more than $15 an hour and get quarterly performance bonuses.

Associate vests
Following a 2018 relaxing of its store associate dress code policy to allow casual wear like jeans and sneakers, Walmart is updating the signature blue or green visit with the corporate spark logo that store employees wear.

New vests have a modernized style that uses trim detail and screen printing to introduce color. Most vests are made of a neutral steel gray that blends with a wider variety of colors. Self-checkout hosts in supercenters will receive an upgraded yellow vest with gray trim as well. Trim and spark on the back will have visible color, and because the trim carries over to the front of the vest, customers will be able to identify associates from any angle.

In addition to aesthetic improvements, the new vests are made with Repreve, a fabric made from recycled bottles. Pockets will be bigger. Rollout will start this year with each supercenter and neighborhood market associate receiving one of the updated vests. Supercenter associates will receive a steel gray vest with blue trim, while neighborhood market associates will get green trim. Later this year, Walmart will offer customization options. Associates will not have to pay more than $11 for a vest.

Bernie Sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders, a top contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, did not spare his hosts from criticism during his address to Walmart shareholders and executives.

"The issue we're dealing with here today is pretty simple," said Sanders. "Despite the incredible wealth of its owner, Walmart pays many of its employees starvation wages, wages that are so low than many of these employees are forced to rely on government programs like food stamps, Medicaid and public housing in order to survive…the American people are sick and tired of subsidizing the greed of some of the largest and most profitable corporations in the country."

Sanders, who is not a Walmart shareholder but was named a proxy by shareholder Cat Davis, urged Walmart to pass a resolution raising its corporate minimum wage to $15 an hour. Walmart's executive VP of global governance, Rachel Brand, executive VP of Walmart global governance, said that the company does not support Sanders’ resolution but would address some of the issues he had raised.

Sanders has long been outspoken in his criticism of Walmart. In November, he introduced a bill that would prohibit large companies from buying back stock until they pay all employees at least $15 an hour.

The proposed legislation, called the “Stop WALMART Act,” was co-sponsored by Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., and would also require large employers to give workers up to seven days of paid sick leave for themselves or to care for a family member, and cap executive compensation at 150 times the median employee wage.
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