Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) brought his battle for a $15 minimum wage and workers’ rights to Walmart’s annual shareholders meeting in Arkansas on Wednesday.
The Walton family controls just over 50% of the company’s stock. They are the richest family in the United States. Sanders has called out the Walton’s refusal to raise wages for its workers, asserting that it is “outrageous that the Walton family makes more in one minute than a Walmart worker earns in a year.”
At the invitation of Cat Davis, a longtime Walmart employee, Sanders went to the meeting to issue his demands in person: raise hourly wages from $11 to $15, put an employee representative on the company board, grant part-time workers the opportunity to work full-time, and stop obstructing workers’ efforts to unionize.
He addressed an enthusiastic crowd following the meeting. His audience booed when Sanders announced the current starting wages at Walmart and at the astonishing wealth of the Walton family.
“You have a company here that is owned by the Walton family … worth about $175 billion,” Sanders said. “One might think that a family worth $175 billion would be able to pay its employees a living wage. And yet, as you all know, the starting wage at Walmart now is $11 an hour. And people cannot make it on $11 an hour. You can’t pay rent. You can’t get health care. You can’t feed your kids or put gas in the car on $11 an hour. What we are also saying: It is a little bit absurd that many, many Walmart employees are forced to go on government programs like Medicaid or food stamps or public housing subsidized by the taxpayers of this country.”
In an interview with CNN, Sanders explained why he believes it is so crucial that workers be represented on the company’s board. “At the end of the day, working people have got to have some control over how they spend at least eight hours a day,” Sanders said. “They cannot simply be cogs in a machine. To be a human being means that you have some ability to control your life. And that includes your work life.”
If Walmart raises its starting wage to $15, it would be joining the likes of Amazon and Disneyland, both of which faced criticism from Sanders for paying workers poorly and, last year, started paying their workers $15 an hour. (Disneyworld employees will see that raise in 2021.)
Last November, Sanders and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) introduced the Stop Walmart Act, “a campaign to raise wages at Walmart and other large, profitable corporations that pay poverty-level wages.” Under their legislation, large employers would be forbidden from buying back stock unless they paid all employees, including part-time workers and contractors, at least $15 an hour; allowed workers to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave; and made sure that the compensation of the highest-paid employee — probably, though not always, the CEO — was no more than 150 times the median pay of all employees.
This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on June 5, 2019. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Jessica M. Goldstein is a reporter for ThinkProgress covering culture and politics.