Every year, Walmart stages a massive, multi-day meeting in Arkansas for the company’s shareholders, not far from the corporate headquarters of the world’s largest retail store. The company’s top executives deliver speeches, its board of directors hears various proposals regarding corporate behavior and governance, and special guests make surprise appearances to keep the masses entertained.
The shareholders’ meeting is also when the company’s 1.5 million U.S. workers — many of whom work for poverty-level wages with few benefits and employment safeguards — are given a chance to directly confront the billionaires whose fortunes they helped build.
This year, they’re bringing a megaphone with them to amplify their message: Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I).
For years, workers have appeared at the shareholders’ meeting to propose new corporate policies designed to help lift the retailer’s army of hourly workers out of poverty and provide them with greater protections on the job. Every single proposal they have put forward has been voted down and ignored by the Walton family, which controls the majority of votes on the board.
Sanders will appear on the workers’ behalf this year to present their latest proposal: give hourly workers one seat on the company’s board.
For years, Sanders has fought on behalf of the country’s 80 million hourly workers, pushing for increases to the minimum wage, strengthening unions, and capping executive salaries which have skyrocketed in the last 25 years. Walmart, by virtue of employing more of these hourly workers than any other company in the country by a wide margin, has been a specific target for Sanders.
Last year, he introduced the subtly-named “Stop Walmart Act” designed to pressure the company to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour. The bill would prohibit large corporations from buying back their own stock — a popular mechanism for boosting share prices — unless they introduce a series of benefits for hourly workers first, in addition to the wage hike.
For their part, Walmart executives appear less than thrilled that Sanders will be in attendance to directly criticize their corporate practices on the biggest day of the year.
“If Senator Sanders attends, we hope he will approach his visit not as a campaign stop, but as a constructive opportunity to learn about the many ways we’re working to provide increased economic opportunity, mobility and benefits to our associates — as well as our widely recognized leadership on environmental sustainability,” the company said in a statement.
The proposal Sanders will be introducing isn’t the only one shareholders are expected to vote on next month. Another one calls for the company to strengthen protections against workplace sexual harassment.
The company is advising shareholders to vote no.