On Wednesday, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), along with Walmart workers with the group United for Respect, confronted Walmart’s corporate leadership with two basic demands.
Sanders attended the Walmart shareholders meeting to propose an official resolution — that the company’s board adopt a living wage policy in which its hourly workers are paid at least $15/hour, are given the opportunity to work at least 40 hours a week, and are given representation on the company’s board (also known as co-determination).
Sen. Sanders — who is also running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 — called out the Walton family, which owns the company, for having a net worth of approximately $175 billion while simultaneously maintaining a workforce that largely depends on public assistance to make ends meet.
When combining the wealth of all of the Waltons, they are wealthier than even Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates. Meanwhile, a 2014 report from Americans for Tax Fairness found that Walmart workers cost taxpayers roughly $6.2 billion per year in food stamps, Medicaid, and public housing, due to not being paid enough to live without public assistance.
“Despite the incredible wealth of its owner, Walmart pays many of its employees starvation wages. Wages that 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 while introducing the resolution. “Frankly, the American people are sick and tired of subsidizing the greed of some of the largest, most profitable corporations in this country.”
Today at the Walmart shareholders meeting I spoke on behalf of @forrespect workers who are proposing to give hourly workers a seat on the board.@Walmart: Treat workers with dignity and respect, not with disdain and contempt. #BernieAtWalmart pic.twitter.com/0dnWDFavkA
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) June 5, 2019
Following Sanders’ introduction of the resolution, he held an impromptu rally with Walmart workers outside of the shareholders’ meeting. He again shamed the Walton family for its wealth while paying workers a starting wage of just $11/hour, pointing out that many of Walmart’s competitors, like Amazon and Costco, already pay workers $15/hour.
“You can’t pay rent. You can’t get healthcare. You can’t feed your kids, or put gas in your car on $11 an hour,” Sanders said. “All we are saying to the Walton family and Walmart is pay your workers a living wage!”
— Armand Aviram (@armandaviram) June 5, 2019
The concept of co-determination more recently became a centerpiece of Sanders’ presidential campaign. Last week, the Vermont senator rolled out plans to both transfer corporate stock to workers, as well as give workers representation on company boards. Co-determination has long since been a part of corporate governance in Germany, and other candidates, like Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), have joined the call to add workers to corporate boards.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.