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Friday, June 6, 2014

Walmart Workers Air Grievances At Annual Meeting

Walmart workers and union activists protest outside a Walmart store on June 4 in Chicago. Workers and activists were scheduled to hold strikes at Walmart stores in more than 20 cities today in their campaign to raise wages. The strikes are scheduled to draw attention to worker grievances before Walmart’s annual shareholder meeting, taking place today in Fayetteville, Arkansas. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Walmart workers and union activists protest outside a Walmart store on June 4 in Chicago. Workers and activists were scheduled to hold strikes at Walmart stores in more than 20 cities today in their campaign to raise wages. The strikes are scheduled to draw attention to worker grievances before Walmart’s annual shareholder meeting, taking place today in Fayetteville, Arkansas. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Walmart’s annual meeting today is a star-studded affair, but the company’s new CEO Doug McMillon has a big challenge on his hands.

The giant retailer faces increased scrutiny amid allegations of bribery in Mexico, lack of oversight in Bangladesh factories, and growing criticism about low wages and benefits, and high compensation for its executives.

Bob Moon of Bloomberg Radio tells Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson that this comes as Walmart is seeing declining sales for five consecutive quarters.

Guest

  • Bob Moon, reporter for Bloomberg Radio.

Transcript

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

Walmart is hosting its annual shareholder meeting in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The meeting draws some 14,000 people including thousands of out-of-town employees for Walmart from around the world. It is the first meeting this year for the company's new CEO Doug McMillon, and he's got some big challenges ahead of him - declining sales, allegations of bribery in Mexico and growing criticism about high executive pay and low worker wages and benefits at Walmart. Bob Moon is with Bloomberg Radio. He's with us from New York to discuss. Bob, welcome back.

BOB MOON: Hello, Jeremy.

HOBSON: Well, what has happened at this shareholder meeting today?

MOON: Well, you know, Sam Walton founded Walmart stores in 1962, and ever since then, the family has been gaining more and more of the company. You've got Rob Walton who's the chairman of the company, his brother Jim and son-in-law Gregory Penner are on the board. And a lot of shareholders think that's too many Waltons on the board. They want a more independent board and they were saying so at today's shareholder meeting, which actually was uncharacteristically open for a Walmart shareholder meeting. We heard from Charmaine Givens-Thomas. She's with the Teamsters Union and she's a sales associate at Walmart at their Evergreen Park, Illinois store. She's been at the store for eight years, and as a Walmart shareholder, she was able to stand up and speak today.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHAREHOLDER MEETING)

CHARMAINE GIVENS-THOMAS: We create enormous wealth for Walmart shareholders, including the Walton family, the richest family in America. Now I'm not saying that the Waltons shouldn't make a good profit, but something is wrong when the richest family in America pays hundreds of thousands of associates so little they cannot survive without public assistance and charity of coworkers.

MOON: And so as you hear, this was a very open meeting, at least to start with. It's also a star-studded affair. There were - you know, musical acts going on at the beginning of the meeting. And it's a grand event in Arkansas.

HOBSON: Well, and it comes not long after many employees from Walmart - working mothers and their supporters - walked off the jobs earlier this week protesting in more than 20 cities around the country to demand better pay and benefits - just what we were hearing there in that clip. Let's take a listen to this protest.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

PROTESTORS: We can't take it no more. We can't take it no more. They say roll back, we say fight back - rollback, fight back, rollback.

HOBSON: Bob, how much are these issues hurting the company's bottom line?

MOON: Well, Charmaine Givens-Thomas, who you heard earlier, was saying that it's hurting their bottom line. They're saying store sales are beginning to fall. They've been falling, actually, for the past five quarters. And she contended that one of the reasons is that they aren't serving their customers the way they had in the past.

HOBSON: And we should say that Walmart employees of more than 2 million people, it's the largest employer in every state in this country aside from the federal government. So America's economy needs Walmart at this point.

MOON: That's right. Their revenue last year was 476.3 billion - with a B - billion dollars. The problem that Walmart seems to have had is getting its stock out on the showroom floor, if you will, to the customers. There are reports that in some cases, they actually have a backlog of products sitting on the loading ramps in the back of their stores. And this has been a problem that they've been trying to rectify for several quarters now. And when we heard from some of these workers at the shareholder meeting that they need to start hiring more people, this was going on at a shareholders meeting. Look, Walmart, hire more people. Let us serve the customer. You do get an idea of the gravity of the problem.

HOBSON: Bob Moon of Bloomberg Radio joining us from New York. Bob, thanks so much.

MOON: Thanks, Jeremy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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