As Walmart workers across the country coordinate a Black Friday walkout in an effort to build awareness about the national retailer’s low wages and poor working conditions, the company is on a media offensive to downplay their associates’ concerns and reassure shoppers.
During an appearance on CNN Tuesday morning, Vice President of Communications David Tovar sought to brush aside the fact that Walmart is paying its associates salaries that are just slightly above the poverty line, even as the company reported a 9 percent increase in third-quarter net income, earning $3.63 billion. He insisted that the company has “got great associates” who are “going to do a great job for us this holiday season.”
But when host Carol Costello pressed Tovar on the growing wealth gap in America and Walmart’s role in insuring a robust middle class, he dodged the question, but not before suggesting that the store offers associates a discount to buy Walmart products (and invest their pay checks back into the company):
COSTELLO: The wage gap in this country continues to grow ever wider. you know, we hear from economists all the time, we need a strong middle class to make our overall economy stronger. Is it Walmart’s responsibility to make sure that its employees can support a strong middle-class lifestyle?
TOVAR: We’re working hard every day to provide more opportunities for associates. [...]
COSTELLO: But if a lot of them are making $15,000 a year, you can’t live a strong middle-class lifestyle on that. You just can’t. [...]
TOVAR: Our average rate is about $12.40 an hour far a full time associate. We also offer comprehensive benefit packages as low as $17 a pay period, which is very affordable and we also pay quaterly bonuses, which is something that not a lot of retailers do…. And we know that they appreciate that, they also get a 10 percent discount card. So you have to factor in all of those things when you’re looking for how we’re helping associates.
Walmart CEO Michael Duke has a total compensation of $18.1 million, and is the second highest paid executive in the Fortune 500. According to CNN Money, it would take more than 700 employees’ salaries to match his total compensation package.
Making Change at Walmart, the group leading Black Friday’s protest, is asking for a minimum wage of $13 an hour, more full time positions and affordable health care. Currently, the typical employee is paid $22,100 a year, slightly below the federal poverty line for a family of four (which is at $23,050 in 2012). Walmart earned $15 billion last year.