Democratic United States presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has told Walmart Inc shareholders and top executives that the world’s largest retailer should increase worker pay in order to reverse income inequality.
Speaking at Walmart’s shareholder meeting on Wednesday, the US senator said: “Despite the incredible wealth of Walmart’s owners” the company pays “starvation wages”.
He presented a shareholder proposal at the event asking the company to give hourly employees a seat on its board and raise base wages to $15 per hour.
“[Walmart] wages are so low, many of these employees are forced to rely on government programs like food stamps, Medicaid and public housing in order to survive,” Sanders said.
“The American people are so tired of subsidising the greed of some of the largest corporations in the United States,” he added.
The proposal, filed by Walmart worker Carolyn Davis, was buried at the end of the annual proxy filing. It was not likely to pass, as the family of founder Sam Walton owns a majority of shares and the retailer asked shareholders to vote against it.
Walmart has raised its minimum wage twice since 2016. It now stands at $11 an hour. But it remains lower than the $15 an hour that rival Amazon.com Inc pays employees. Retailers Target Corp and Costco Wholesale Corp also pay higher rates than Walmart.
The company says it pays an average compensation of $17.50 an hour to its hourly employees – a figure that factors in benefits such as healthcare coverage.
Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon said Walmart has raised wages in the US by 50 percent in the past four years and continues to increase wages on a market-by-market basis to hire and retain talent.
“We are not perfect, but together we are learning, we are listening and changing,” he said.
Sanders also challenged McMillon’s wage. “Walmart’s CEO is making a thousand times more than the average Walmart employee,” he said.
The ratio of McMillon’s $23.6m pay package to that of the median associate is 1,076 to 1.
Sanders, whose presence at the meeting drew more attention to the campaign for higher hourly wages, had three minutes to give his presentation and make comments.
Walmart, which employs nearly 1.5 million Americans and is the largest US private-sector employer, drew sharp criticism from labour groups and unions when it changed the format of its annual meeting last year, splitting it into two separate events.
The business meeting at which Sanders spoke is now held a few days before the big shareholder event, which draws thousands of employees. This year and the year before, the company rushed through shareholder proposals at the business meeting – which had a fraction of the attendees – in less than 30 minutes.