White House effusively praises Walmart for bonuses, has no comment on massive layoffs

"This is only the beginning of what people have to look forward to in the Trump economy."

CREDIT: Fox News
CREDIT: Fox News

On Thursday morning, Walmart announced it was raising its starting hourly wage to $11, expanding parental leave policies, and issuing one-time cash bonuses to both its part-time and full-time workers. Hours later, the company confirmed that it was also shuttering at least 63 of its Sam’s Club stores, laying off thousands of workers in the process.

During Thursday’s White House briefing, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders ignored questions about the massive round of layoffs. She chose instead to praise President Trump for signing the GOP tax bill — which lowers the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to only 21 percent — a move that, she said, inspired the company’s decision to raise wages.

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“The tax law is already having an incredible impact on workers and families,” Sanders said, unprompted, referencing the GOP tax bill, which Trump signed in December. “This is only the beginning of what people have to look forward to in the Trump economy.”

Asked about Walmart’s decision to lay off thousands of workers, Sanders declined to comment. However, later in the briefing, after being pressed on the subject once more, she offered, “I can tell you that we’re excited about the fact that they raised minimum wage, they have increased opportunities when it comes to paid family leave and that they are increasing salaries to over a million American workers. We think that’s a positive.”

Earlier in the briefing, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin also sang Trump’s praises, sidestepping the store closures and remarking instead on the number of companies who had promised to increase wages and issue one-time cash bonuses in the wake of the tax bill.

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“Different companies will do different things,” he said, when asked whether it was fair to attribute the wage increases to Trump, but not the layoffs. “Some companies will invest capital. Some companies will return money to workers. Lots of things are going on in the economy and we appreciate what Walmart’s doing.

According to Business Insider, Walmart has closed or is planning to close at least 63 of its existing Sam’s Club locations, with more to come at a later date, laying off thousands of employees in the process. Local media reported this week that many of those employees were not informed of the decision and only found out they had been terminated when they arrived at work and found the doors locked.

In response to the reports, officials stated that they had come to the decision “after a thorough review of our existing portfolio.”

“We’ve decided to close a series of clubs and better align our locations with our strategy,” a tweet from the official Sam’s Club account read. “Closing clubs is never easy and we’re committed to working with impacted members and associates through this transition.”

Several companies have promised to issue worker bonuses in the wake of the tax bill’s passage, and at least a handful have said they will raise salaries and wages as well. In several of those instances, however, officials have only done so under pressure from unions or as part of previously announced pay increases. The majority of those companies will also likely utilize the excess cash gifted them under the new corporate tax cut to buy back shares and pay executives massive bonuses.

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In Walmart’s case, the average worker is likely to receive an additional $190, as this week’s announcement stipulates that only workers who have worked with the company for more than 20 years will receive the full $1,000 sum.

As ThinkProgress reported earlier on Thursday, the company’s pre-tax profits in 2017 were around $20.5 billion. Under the new 21 percent corporate tax rate, Walmart will likely rake in an additional $18 billion.