Bernie Sanders confronts Walmart on worker pay, slams Walton family at annual meeting

Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders attended the annual Walmart shareholders meeting on Wednesday, where he pressed the company to raise wages for its hourly workers.

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Sanders put forth a proposal to raise the company’s $11 minimum wage. He also proposed allowing hourly workers to have representation on the company’s board of directors.

“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.”

Sanders went on to say since Walmart made about $10 billion in profit last year, paid its CEO more than $20 million in compensation and authorized about $20 billion in stock buybacks – which he noted will benefit its wealthiest shareholders – it can afford to pay its employees $15 per hour.

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

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon opened the meeting at the retail giant’s Arkansas headquarters, appearing to address some of Sanders’ concerns right off the bat. He referred the incremental increases in pay workers have received, the benefits – like paid leave for new birth mothers – and quarterly cash bonuses that are awarded on top of compensation.

He also said that the federal minimum wage of $7.25 is “too low,” adding that Congress should put a thoughtful plan in place that phases in an increase, accounting for cost of living differences to avoid “unintended consequences.”

Shareholders will vote on sexual harassment policies, too.

McMillon told FOX Business’ Maria Bartiromo during an interview on Tuesday that the “underlying premise” of Sanders’ push to have hourly workers represented on the board – that workers should be heard – is one that the company supports.

“We’re working on the whole system, not just one of the variables,” McMillon said.

McMillon also said the company moved its starting wage rate up 50 percent in four years.

Sanders has targeted a number of the country’s largest corporations – including e-commerce giant Amazon and Delta Airlines – over employee pay. While his pressure on Amazon caused the company to raise its minimum wage to $15 per hour, Walmart pushed back on Sanders’ “Stop Walmart Act,” which was unveiled late last year. The bill would prevent large employers from buying back their own stock until they pay all employees at least $15 per hour, provide workers with at least seven days of paid sick leave and stop CEO compensation from rising above 150 times median worker pay.

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At the time Walmart said it provides “average hourly total compensation in excess of $17.50 per hour,” while it has added benefits like paid time off and education opportunities. Employees also have the opportunity to earn quarterly cash bonuses. Democrats introduced the Raise the Wage Act in January, which would increase the federal minimum pay rate to $15 by 2024 – through scheduled annual increases.