Who says Wednesday's annual shareholders' meeting for Walmart Inc. was all business, no entertainment? Actually the paper said that. Call us optimists, though, because we had a lot of fun Wednesday when Bernie Sanders appeared. Some of the things we saw and heard made us laugh out loud.
Uncle Bernie, the American-not-Venezuelan-socialist from Vermont, was invited to speak as a proxy for a Walmart worker and present an employee proposal. It came across as more demand than proposal. And a Southerner might have been more polite. But Bernie Sanders took to the Walmart stage and insulted the Waltons, the company, the free market, profitable companies and our intelligence. He didn't get around to insulting motherhood and apple pie, but speakers only had three minutes each.
Both Chairman Gregory B. Penner and CEO Doug McMillon welcomed the senator when they took the stage. They seemed quite cordial considering the senator's past proposals targeting Walmart. Remember the Stop Welfare for Any Large Monopoly Amassing Revenue from Taxpayers Act? If you'll notice, that's also called the Stop Walmart Act. Funny, but Amazon, Target, Costco, Kroger, Walgreens and others probably wouldn't consider Walmart a monopoly. But why let facts get in the way of a good time and better soundbite?
The proposal Sen. Sanders presented to shareholders in Rogers, Ark., aimed to put workers on the company's board. Also, he demanded that Walmart give workers a $15 minimum wage. We didn't hear the word "please." Instead, the senator fumed: "The American people are sick and tired of subsidizing the greed of some of the largest and most profitable corporations in this country. They are also outraged by the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality in America, as demonstrated by the CEO of Walmart making a thousand times more than the average Walmart employee."
Greed, outrage, grotesque. The old socialist and presidential candidate was quick to say Walmart paid its employees "starvation wages." Somebody would have to be stupid to work for starvation wages. So add Walmart employees to his list of the insulted.
Nowhere did the senator mention the company's having invested heavily in pay raises over the last couple years for those it calls "associates." Doug McMillon said the company has moved up starting wages by 50 percent in the last four years. We also remember the "greedy" and "grotesque" company raising its minimum wage to $11 an hour only last year, and the average hourly wage is $14.26. The company has been investing more in quarterly bonuses, college pay programs and paid maternity leave, too.
Dispatches say that Walmart's median employee pay rose 14.5 percent since last year. Even in this booming economy, 14.5 percent is one heckuva pay raise!
But you can't keep a good socialist down. The senator said taxpayers were subsidizing greed and wealth and income inequality. Maybe he could craft a government program that would limit profits and incomes. In fact, he already has. See the Stop Walmart Act, which would limit CEO compensation to 150 times the median pay of employees. But why 150 times? Why not 15 times? Or two times? Arbitrary is arbitrary.
If Bernie Sanders & Co. get to set CEO pay, instead of the free market, then why not go all the way? How about setting prices for products, too? And why only seven days of sick pay? Why not 70? American productivity in the private sector might be overrated anyway.
If you've heard one Bernie speech, you've heard 'em all. Long story short, the senator wasn't here in Arkansas to win over Southern voters, but to shore up his place among the True Believers. His polls have been slipping. He needed a boost. So why not march into the heart of the private sector--into a shareholders meeting (!) of the nation's largest (!) private (!) employer (!)--and give 'em what fer?
After he finished trashing Walmart, Uncle Bernie immediately left the room, and you could hear cheers from the protesters outside. Seems he brought his own supporters to the gig.
It must be mentioned that before Bernie Sanders took the stage, Walmart's CEO called on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage, from the current $7.25 an hour. It's almost as if even Walmart executives want hard workers to make more money. But that wasn't enough for Sen. Sanders, who has these kind of speeches memorized already.
NB: In the end, Bernie Sanders' proposal fell flat. According to Walmart officials, it received less than 0.01 percent of the shares that were present or represented by proxy at the meeting and entitled to vote.
In other words, his proposal to Walmart shareholders pretty much had the same chance of passing as most of his proposals in the United States Senate.
Yet he's still taken seriously. Again, it's not hard to find some humor here.
Editorial on 06/07/2019
Print Headline: Bernie comes to town