Walmart CEO may fire up federal minimum wage debate

During Walmart’s annual shareholders meeting at its headquarters in Arkansas on Wednesday, CEO Doug McMillon panned the federal minimum wage as the retailer faced criticism from Sen. Bernie Sanders over its pay practices.

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McMillon started off the meeting by mentioning the incremental wage increases workers at the company have received – its minimum wage is $11 per hour, lagging behind the rates of rivals like Amazon and Target.

McMillon then went after the federal minimum wage, saying it is “lagging behind” and that $7.25 is “too low.”

He suggested that lawmakers put a thoughtful plan in place to phase-in increases, taking into account cost of living differences in order to avoid “unintended consequences.”

Meanwhile, Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders took the stage later in the meeting to press the company to pay its workers a “livable wage.”

“Walmart is the largest private employer in America and is owned by … the wealthiest family in the U.S.,” Sanders said during his three-minute presentation. “Despite the wealth of its owner, Walmart pays many of its employees starvation wages.”

He mentioned that Target, Costco and Amazon are already on their way to increasing wages.

McMillon told FOX Business on Tuesday that the company moved its starting wage rate up 50 percent in four years. He also mentioned that employees can receive quarterly bonuses and they have comprehensive benefits packages – including education opportunities.

Walmart has said it provides “average hourly total compensation in excess of $17.50 per hour.”

Meanwhile, Democrats are pushing to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. Lawmakers introduced the Raise the Wage Act in January, which would increase the federal minimum pay rate to $15 by 2024 – through scheduled annual increases.

Sanders is just one of many Democratic presidential candidates that supports raising the federal minimum pay rate.

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Not all conservatives are opposed to bigger paychecks, however, though they typically don’t support a federal mandate.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, for example, argued against having the federal government set the national minimum wage since conditions vary meaningfully among states.

“The federal government shouldn’t have jurisdiction over the states anyway in a matter like this,” Kudlow said. "The conditions are different in these states, the cost of living is different, the state of business is different.”