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Walmart workers and supporters gathered in cities across the country to fight for higher wages. (Photo: UFCW International Union/flickr/cc)

Walmart workers and supporters gathered in cities across the country to fight for higher wages. (Photo: UFCW International Union/flickr/cc)

As Workers Protest, Walmart Changes Tune in Minimum Wage Fight

Walmart's CEO promised that the company plans to pay its workers a higher base pay, but did not specify when or how much

Nadia Prupis

As the Fight for 15 continues to grow, Walmart preempted a planned protest on Thursday by workers in several cities by promising to pay its employees more than the minimum wage—eventually.

Walmart CEO Douglas McMillon told reporters on Wednesday that the company plans to upgrade its hourly pay for part-time workers over time until they are "in a situation where we don't pay minimum wage at all."

However, McMillon did not elaborate on the time frame of that plan or divulge how much higher Walmart employees’ paychecks would go, Reuters reports. Out of the company’s 1.3 million workers, only 6,000 currently make the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Walmart workers and anti-poverty advocates were not deterred by McMillon’s claims as they gathered in cities around the U.S. on Thursday to protest low wages. Carrying banners that read, "End the Walmart Economy" and "I Am Worth More," activists from Organizers United for Respect (OUR) Walmart led rallies and sit-ins in New York, Phoenix, and Washington, D.C. Protesters in New York marched to the penthouse of Alice Walton, heiress to the Walmart founders’ fortune, to demand that the company set a base pay of $15 for all its employees, echoing the calls of the growing fast-food workers’ movement.

"Getting paid less than $15 an hour I often find myself struggling to make ends meet to provide for my daughter," Isaiah Beamon, one of the protesters in New York, told ThinkProgress.

The National Retail Foundation claimed earlier this week that massive companies like Walmart cannot afford to pay its employees a higher wage, because raising the base pay could cut into their profits.

But business leaders in cities like Seattle and San Francisco have recently thrown their weight behind a $15 minimum wage, while big companies like Gap and Ikea have raised their own wages independently in an effort to combat employee turnover and support corporate responsibility.

As the National Employment Law Project points out, federal minimum wage should currently be $10.10 just to keep up with inflation.

"I can’t afford anything," LaRanda Jackson, who earns $8.75 at a Cincinnati Walmart, told the New York Times. "Sometimes I can’t afford soap, toothpaste, tissue. Sometimes I have to go without washing my clothes."

OUR Walmart also argued against the National Retail Foundation’s narrative. By not paying their workers a liveable wage, companies lose business from the very people they market their products to, the activists say.

Dozens of protesters were arrested Thursday. Walmart employees also sent a petition to the company’s chair, Rob Walton, warning him that if the company did not take action promptly, workers in more than 1,700 stores in every state would stage widespread strikes on Black Friday.

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