Sen. Bernie Sanders stopped in Arkansas Wednesday to blast Walmart executives during their annual meeting with shareholders.
Employees at America’s largest retailer want a seat on Walmart’s board of directors, and they’re hoping the high-profile presidential candidate will help them make their case.
Publicly shaming billionaires and CEOs for underpaying workers is a signature Sanders move. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Sears chief executive Eddie Lampert are frequent targets. Sanders’s appearance at Walmart’s annual shindig in Arkansas will give him a chance to call out the worst offender in his book: the Walton family, who own about half of Walmart’s shares.
Sanders has long focused on Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, as the perfect example of how the US economy is rigged in favor of billionaires and corporate interests.
“Walmart workers are sick and tired of being paid starvation wages while the Walton family, the wealthiest family in America, is worth over $170 billion,” Sanders told a group of Walmart workers during a rally Wednesday in Arkansas. “It is time for Walmart to pay all of its workers a living wage, give them a seat at the table, and allow part-time employees to work full-time jobs.”
While Walmart raised minimum pay to $11 an hour last year, it still lags behind competitors like Target and Amazon, both of which recently announced that they will pay at least $15 an hour. So far, Walmart has resisted pressure to do the same.
Walmart employees have been trying for years to get the company to listen to them at their annual shareholder meeting in Arkansas. They’ve introduced proposal after proposal, asking for higher pay and better working conditions. All have been voted down.
This year is the first time they will introduce a plan to give workers a seat on the company’s board — something no public US company has done, and no employee has yet proposed during a shareholder meeting.
“At a time of deepening racial and economic divide and insecurity, hourly associates can guide a more fair, inclusive and equitable corporate ecosystem that bridges differences,” the proposal reads.
The plan was filed by Walmart employee Cat Davis, who is also a leader for workers’ rights organization United for Respect. The proposal points out that Walmart’s lowest-paid workers are overwhelmingly female, black, and Latinx and that their low wages keep them living in poverty.
Davis said in the proposal that having an employee on the board to advocate for Walmart workers would help the company improve its relationship with its workforce of 2 million people, without hurting profits.
“Instead, with a collective focus and diverse frontline representation, it could lead to long-term financial returns and profitability for all stakeholders,” the proposal says.
The board will also vote Wednesday on another employee proposal to improve sexual harassment protections at its 5,000-plus stores across the country.
If the past is any indication, the board will reject both ideas. Walmart’s board currently has nine men and three women, including McDonald’s CEO Stephen Easterbrook, former Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, three members of the Walton family, and the former CEOs of Pepsi and American Airlines.