Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders appeared at Walmart’s annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday to present a resolution for the retail giant to put its hourly employees at a path to earning a $15-per-hour minimum wage.
“Walmart is the largest private employer in America,” Sanders continued. “It is owned by the Walton family, the wealthiest family in the United States, worth approximately $175 billion. And yet, despite the incredible wealth of its owner, Walmart pays many of its employees starvation wages. Wages that are so low that many of these employees are forced to rely on government programs like food stamps, Medicaid, and public housing in order to survive.”
“Frankly, the American people are sick and tired of subsidizing the greed of some of the largest, and most profitable corporations in this country,” he also said. “They are also outraged by the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality in America, as demonstrated by the CEO of Walmart making a thousand times more than the average Walmart employee.”
Urging Walmart to increase its base pay to $15-an-hour, Sanders pointed out that Amazon and Target, two of its biggest competitors, as companies that “have already moved in that direction.”
Sanders also called on Walmart to add hourly employees to its corporate board, a move to give workers a voice—and the means to exercise power—within the company.
“The concerns of workers, not just stockholders, should be part of board decisions,” he said.
Following Sanders’ speech, Walmart Global Governance EVP Rachel Brand responded by thanking the senator, but essentially blew off his appearance, saying simply that “while we don’t support this particular proposal, the importance of listening to and investing in our associates was reflected in [CEO Doug McMillon’s] remarks, and you’ll hear more about it later in the meeting.”
It’s unclear whether Sanders’ proposal could pass if put to a vote. Still, the fact that he showed up and used his name and political capital to back a concrete, fair proposal is an idea more politicians could take to heart.