Published on

America's Wealthiest Family Owns Walmart. They Can Afford to Pay Workers $15 an Hour.

When you're shopping today, remember Walmart's owners have billions, while workers can barely afford to live, often forced to use government subsidies. We can do better.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks during a news conference on better wages for workers, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The major economic crisis facing this country is that at a time of massive income and wealth inequality, tens of millions of Americans are working for wages that are so low that they are barely surviving. All over this country, people are forced to work two or three jobs to support their families as the cost of healthcare, housing, childcare, and prescription drugs continues to rise. In today's economy, the very rich are becoming much richer while too many workers see little or no income growth.

"The American people understand that something is fundamentally unfair when workers earn totally inadequate wages, while the corporations that employ them make billions in profits and their CEOs receive outrageously high compensation packages."

Thankfully, over the past year, real progress has been made to address this crisis. As a result of major grassroots campaigns, workers at the Walt Disney Company and Amazon fought and won a living wage of at least $15 an hour. Further, from coast to coast, many states and cities are raising the minimum wage — often to $15 an hour.

The American people understand that something is fundamentally unfair when workers earn totally inadequate wages, while the corporations that employ them make billions in profits and their CEOs receive outrageously high compensation packages. On Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and one of the busiest shopping days of the year, we must remind Walmart, the largest corporation in America, that the low wages they pay their employees is unacceptable. Walmart must pay their employees a living wage — at least $15 an hour. The American worker needs a pay raise, and Walmart can play an important role in leading that effort.

Walmart takes in billions, workers get peanuts

The Walton family, which owns Walmart, is the richest family in America. They are worth around $167 billion. This one family owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of our people. Incredibly, since 1982, the Walton family has seen its net worth increase by about 10,000 percent, in large part, because they inherited about half of Walmart’s stock.

"Wages at Walmart are so low that many thousands of their workers are forced to go on government programs in order to survive."

Further, Walmart is not a struggling company. Last year, it made more than $13 billion in profits. This is a company that could afford to give its CEO, Douglas McMillon, a $22.8 million compensation package which is nearly 1,200 times more than the average worker at Walmart. Meanwhile, while the wealthiest family in America becomes even wealthier, the median Walmart worker makes less than $19,500 a year — below the poverty line for a family of three — the very definition of a starvation wage.

And here is something that gets the average American very angry. Wages at Walmart are so low that many thousands of their workers are forced to go on government programs in order to survive — programs like food stamps, Medicaid and public housing. It is estimated that these subsidies for Walmart cost taxpayers $6.2 billion a year. The simple truth is that the average American taxpayer should not have to subsidize the wealthiest family in America. While Walmart raised the minimum wages for workers in its stores from $10 to $11 an hour earlier this year, many of its workers have told us that they still cannot make ends meet. The Walton family must pay their employees a living wage.

Walmart insists that it cannot afford to pay its workers $15 an hour. Really? Rob Walton, the eldest son of Walmart’s founder, had the resources to spend an estimated $226 million on an antique car collection that includes 12 Ferraris, six Porsches, two Maseratis, and a 1963 Corvette Grand Sport Roadster. His sister Alice, another heir to the Walmart fortune, had no problem amassing a private art collection worth an estimated $500 million, buying a $44 million painting, purchasing a $25 million two-floor condo on New York’s Park Avenue with 52 windows overlooking Central Park, or acquiring a $22 million 4,400-acre ranch in Texas.

Our bill will force Walmart to pay workers fairly

Yes. The Walton family can afford to pay its employees a living wage.

Instead of using its massive profits to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour, Walmart has announced plans to buy back $20 billion of its stock over a two-year period with nearly half of the benefits going to, you guessed it, the Walton family. If Walmart can afford $20 billion for stock buybacks to enrich wealthy shareholders, it can afford to raise the pay of its workers to a living wage. It would cost Walmart less than $4 billion a year to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour. Taking this step would benefit nearly one million of its struggling workers.

We have recently introduced legislation called the Stop WALMART Act which addresses this issue. Our bill would prohibit large corporations from buying back their own stock unless their workers earn at least $15 an hour, had 7 days of paid sick leave and their CEO did not make over 150 times as much as their typical worker.

Let's be clear. What is going on at Walmart is not unique. In the midst of a so-called “booming” economy, real wages for average workers are lower today than they were in 1973. The result: Nearly 80 percent of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck and are just one pink slip away from financial ruin. Today, for example, an estimated 140 million Americans are unable to afford a monthly budget that includes housing, food, healthcare, transportation and a cell phone. 

We can do better. We must do better. We need an economy that works for all, not just the Walton family and the top one percent. Walmart: do the right thing. Raise your minimum wage to a living wage – $15 an hour.

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 after serving 16 years in the House of Representatives. Sanders ran to become the Democratic Party presidential nominee in both 2016 and 2020 and remains the longest-serving independent member of Congress in American history. Elected Mayor of Burlington, Vermont in 1981, he served four terms. Before his 1990 election as Vermont's at-large member in Congress, Sanders lectured at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and at Hamilton College in upstate New York. Read more at his website. Follow him on Twitter: @SenSanders and @BernieSanders

Ro Khanna

Ro Khanna

Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, where he serves as the First Vice Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He was a national co-chair of the Bernie Sanders 2020 presidential campaign. After an organizing drive by Sanders delegates in the state, he was elected as a co-chair of California’s delegation to the 2020 Democratic National Convention. Follow him on Twitter: @RoKhanna

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Please select a donation method:

Share This Article