Bernie Sanders went to Walmart, shareholders were not impressed

On May 23 I wrote about Bernie Sanders’ invitation by the workers of Walmart to attend the annual shareholder meeting in Bentonville, Arkansas. Bernie accepted the invitation and made good on his commitment. He attended the June 5 meeting and he was given an opportunity to speak.

The workers of Walmart (that sounds like a potential reality show on Bravo) wanted a seat on the board. They had some normal demands of higher wages and paid sick leave. There was also mention of this jibberish – the workers were demanding a “more fair, inclusive and equitable corporate ecosystem that bridges differences.” I have no idea what they are saying there.

Speaking as a proxy for Walmart employees, Bernie delivered a resolution from the floor to put company workers on its board of directors and pay them a minimum wage of $15.00 per hour. Then Sanders lowered the boom. He was allowed three minutes to speak.

“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,” Sanders said. “Further, Walmart should give a voice to its workers by allowing them seats on the board of directors. The concerns of workers, not just stockholders should be a part of board decisions.

The resolution failed to pass. Walmart CEO Doug McMillon was present and said: “We’re not perfect, but together we’re listening, we’re learning, and we’re changing.”

Though the top brass publicly welcomed Bernie’s visit, Dan Bartlett, Walmart’s executive vice president of corporate affairs used Twitter to distribute a prebuttal in anticipation of the millionaire socialist’s criticisms. That brought on a response from Bernie’s campaign manager.

“We welcome @BernieSanders on his campaign stop to Northwest Arkansas. Here are a few facts I’m fairly certain he won’t acknowledge while describing his outdated view of Walmart,” Bartlett wrote. “No other company in the U.S. is making debt-free college education accessible to more than a million people for about $1 a day. No other company has opened 200 training academies, providing enhanced workforce skill-building for hundreds of thousands just this past year. No other company has hired more than 225k veterans in the last 5 years. No other company in America has pledged to avoid emissions in the supply chain by 1 BILLION metric tons by 2030! Oh, and we’re one of the largest federal income tax payers, recently contributing nearly 2% of all corporate taxes!”

Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir fired back with his own tweet, writing: “No, Dan, it’s not Mission Accomplished for Walmart” and linking to a news story in which Bartlett, who worked as an adviser to President George W. Bush, took the blame for the decision to hang the infamous banner during a speech Bush gave on an aircraft carrier in May 2003, shortly after the US invasion of Iraq.

During Neal Cavuto’s afternoon show on Fox News Channel Wednesday, he pointed out some Walmart statistics of his own. He mentioned $793 million in bonuses to hourly workers; 215,000 associates promoted; 57% of promotions went to women, and 45% of those promotions went to people of color.

Though Walmart executives hoped that Bernie’s visit wouldn’t result in a campaign-style rally, the 2020 Democrat candidate did participate in an impromptu rally outside where he repeated his demand that Walmart workers be paid $15.00 per hour. Currently, the minimum wage at Walmart is $11.00 per hour, though it works out to be $17.50 for full-time employees when benefits are included.

Walmart has upgraded its pay structure twice since 2016. The corporation has defended its wages, saying it pays a total of $17.50 an hour to full-time employees when its various benefits are taken into account.

Sanders is adding names to his email list with the help of an online campaign to pressure Walmart to increase their workers’ pay. It’s all about his presidential campaign.

Walmart’s CEO urged Congress to raise the federal minimum wage during his remarks Wednesday morning. Sanders is holding out for $15.00 per hour.

Tuesday Walmart announced additional enticements for high school age workers with higher education goals. Walmart is offering free prep for the SAT and ACT tests and debt-free college benefits.

The nation’s largest private employer said Tuesday that its workers in high school may also take two to three free general education college classes through an educational startup. Walmart estimates about 25,000 people under the age of 18 work at its stores, a fraction of its 1.3 million person U.S. workforce.

The enticements are part of an expansion of a program Walmart launched last year offering affordable access to a college degree for full-time and part-time workers who have been with the company at least 90 days. Still, reaching out to high schoolers represents a challenge, given that fewer teens are entering the workforce than in previous decades due to academic pressures and an increase in summer school enrollment.

Bernie’s visit was a political stunt and not everyone was happy to see him.

In line for the meeting, Pat Copp, a shareholder for three decades and retired business administrator from Indiana, defended Walmart’s businesses practices and talked up the company’s recent moves to raise its minimum hourly wage. She called Sanders’ visit a political stunt and said she didn’t like “his philosophies or thoughts, whatever you want to call them. I disagree with him totally.”

Ms. Copp is, however, inclined to agree that worker representation on the board is a good idea.

“I don’t know how large the board is, but to have input from the workers in some way — I think that would be good,” she said. “A lot of time top management is so removed from the ground level, they really don’t know what’s going on.”