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ROGERS -- Walmart Inc. has separated the business from the party during its 2018 shareholders week.

The Bentonville retailer decided to hold its business-only meeting at the John Q. Hammons Center in Rogers on Wednesday, two days ahead of Friday's scheduled celebration at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. It was a change for Walmart, which is known for throwing elaborate and star-studded shareholders events each year.

Wednesday's business meeting lasted about 25 minutes.

Six proposals, including three from shareholders, were considered. Shareholders approved the election of 11 board members, including McDonald's Chief Executive Officer Stephen Easterbrook and Square Chief Financial Officer Sarah Friar. Executive compensation was approved as well.

Walmart employees read two of the proposals presented, including a request to prepare a report demonstrating that the company does not have any racial or ethnic pay gaps. The second asked that for every dollar the company spends on stock buybacks, it grant an equal amount to a stock-purchase plan for employees to be distributed evenly among participants based on the number of hours worked.

"No offense to the Walton family, but you don't need more money," said Guirlene Mazarin, a Walmart store employee. "It's time to invest in associates."

The proposals received applause from some shareholders attending the event, but none received the majority vote needed to pass. The proposal tied to racial or ethnic pay gaps received about 7 percent of the vote, while the stock-purchase proposal received less than 1 percent. Another shareholder proposal -- asking the company to adopt an independent chairman policy -- received about 16 percent of the vote.

Walmart employee advocates like the Organization United for Respect, formerly known as OUR Walmart, believe the separate business meeting in Rogers was a way to limit the number of workers who had access to the event and to quiet some of the applause from employees.

Dan Schlademan, who is an organizer for Organization United for Respect, said that in previous years, workers were able to raise "uncomfortable issues" during the Friday event.

"The company's embarrassment has been compounded by loud applause from thousands of hand-picked associates who fill the stadium," Schlademan said in a statement before the meeting, referring to previous years when proposals were read in Bud Walton Arena. "It's no wonder that they've moved the airing of shareholder proposals to a far-off conference center."

Walmart said previously that it decided to separate the meetings to keep the mood celebratory throughout its Friday event. The business meeting was available to view online Wednesday, and the company said it will provide a brief recap during Friday's celebration in Bud Walton Arena.

MESSAGE DELIVERED

Members of Organization United for Respect also spent part of Wednesday delivering a "Declaration of Respect," addressed to Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon, to Walmart's home office in Bentonville.

The declaration was created by a team of female leaders after gathering input from more than 9,000 current Walmart associates through in-person interviews and a national online survey, according to the organization.

The declaration outlined several measures, including calls for Walmart to make a public commitment to upgrade its starting pay from $11 to $15 an hour. It also asked for the company to provide full-time hours for employees who want to work full time, and to ensure that women and racial minority groups receive equal pay and opportunities to advance by disclosing pay rates and the part-time, full-time breakdown by race and gender.

DENIM AND SNEAKERS

Workers at all 4,700 Walmart stores in the United States will be able to swap their khaki pants for denim on Monday.

The changes didn't happen overnight, said Todd Harbaugh, executive vice president of Neighborhood Markets, during Walmart's U.S. associates meeting at Bud Walton Arena.

The new dress code was tested in dozens of Walmart stores before Wednesday's announcement. Along with denim, workers will soon be able to wear shirts of any color -- not just blue -- and managers can wear sneakers instead of dress shoes. The blue Walmart vest and name badge are here to stay.

"We want you to wear what makes you feel good," Harbaugh said.

CHRISTMAS TOYS

In the wake of Toys R Us' decision to close its doors, Walmart is paying attention to this "big news in the industry" and making moves to increase toy sales this Christmas, officials said.

Steve Bratspies, chief merchandising officer of U.S. Walmart Stores, said during a panel discussion Wednesday afternoon in Bentonville that customers can expect Walmart to be "extremely competitive" in the toy space this year.

"In short -- yes," Bratspies said. "Walmart is planning on a big toy market this year. There's more volume up for grabs."

Shoppers can expect more shelf space in Walmart stores dedicated to bicycles, action figures, dolls and board games to make the most of this year's industry shake-up.

In March, Toys R Us said it would close or sell all 735 stores across the nation and eliminate 31,000 jobs, after filing for bankruptcy protection in September.

Business on 05/31/2018

Print Headline: Walmart all business at Rogers event

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