The latest sign that the tide is turning in favor of better pay for low-wage workers: Walmart’s CEO on Wednesday announced the company’s intention eventually to abandon the minimum wage.
Walmart chief executive Douglas McMillon told reporters after an investor conference that the company plans to pay all of its workers at a rate higher than the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour. He did not say how much more.
“It is our intention over time that we will be in a situation where we don’t pay minimum wage at all,” McMillon said, according to multiple sources. The move to pay all Walmart employees more than the minimum wage would be largely symbolic: McMillon said less than 1 percent of Walmart’s U.S. employees currently make the minimum wage.
Walmart spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan on Thursday confirmed McMillon’s statement to HuffPost, and said that only 6,000 of the company’s 1.3 million U.S. employees currently make the minimum wage. Buchanan said she couldn’t offer a timeline for when the company would make the change.
When asked what motivated the decision, she said, “We’re looking at how we can take care of our associates and engage them, not only to transform our workforce here at Walmart, but also to transform the workforce here in the U.S.”
McMillon is the latest executive whose comments reflect an apparent trend in corporate America to shift slowly away from the current federal minimum wage. The CEOs of Subway, Dairy Queen and McDonald’s have recently spoken out in favor of a higher federal minimum wage. Ikea increased its lowest pay tier for U.S. workers, bringing a raise to more than 13,000 employees. Overall, surveys have found that a majority of employers think the minimum wage should be higher than it is.
Such an intention is particularly notable coming from the CEO of Walmart, which is the country’s largest private employer, and one that is often accused of paying its workers low wages.
Walmart has disputed such claims, saying its average hourly pay is $12.92, which is significantly higher than the federal minimum. That calculation, however, does not include the wages of its part-time workers.
The announcement came as hundreds of Walmart workers and other low-wage retail and fast-food employees protested on Wednesday and Thursday in four cities, demanding full-time jobs and a minimum wage of $15 an hour.
The battle for a higher guaranteed wage has been fought not just on the street but also in Congress. President Barack Obama has called for raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour, but his efforts have met staunch resistance from Republicans.
The minimum wage hasn’t been raised since July 2009, and its purchasing power has fallen dramatically since it peaked in 1968. According to the National Employment Law Project, if the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation, today it would be $10.90 an hour.