In response to a recent wave of strikes and other labor actions at Walmart stores around the country, company executives have insisted that they compensate their employees generously, and that the picketing workers speak on behalf of a small, dissatisfied minority. But a leaked document from within the company reveals a top-down policy of low, incrementally increasing wages.
The document [PDF], first obtained by the Huffington Post, shows that Walmart workers can earn a base pay as low as $8.00, and earn wage increases in increments as low as 20 or 40 cents. "As a result, a 'solid performer' who starts at Walmart as a cart pusher making $8 an hour and receives one promotion, about the average rate, can expect to make $10.60 after working at the company for 6 years," according to Huffington Post reporters Alice Hines and Christina Wilkie.
Though the document specifically pertains to compensation at Sam's Club stores, Hines and Wilkie report that "multiple Walmart employees confirmed that the plan applies to Walmart as well."
Despite Walmart's insistence that employees are paid fairly, low compensation ranks high among striking workers' grievances. In a conference call organized last week by the campaign Making Change at Walmart, several employees of the company complained of poverty-level wages.
"I struggle to support my family on $14,000 a year," said Sara Gilbert, a customer service manager at the company for three years. "My children are in state housing and we get subsidized housing and food stamps."
Economist Julianne Malveaux said, "[Walmart] employees earn around $8 an hour. This is not a living wage, this is not a working wage, and especially not a living wage when they're not working 30 hours a week, which would allow them to get health insurance."
She said that many employees who would otherwise be working full-time were scheduled for 24 or 26 hours a week, so that Walmart would not obliged to provide them with full-time benefits.
Walmart spokesman Kory Lundberg told msnbc.com that he had not seen the document, but that Walmart offers "competitive" wages. "We're competitive with all of our competitors, even unionized ones, in pay and benefits," he said. The average wage for a full-time hourly employee, he said, was $12.50.
A new report by a policy analyst at Demos exhorts Walmart to raise its wages, arguing that the company's stringent compensation policies help to keep wages low across the retail industry.
"By raising wages and putting more than $4 billion into the hands of its underpaid workers, Walmart could have a significant impact on retail employment and the overall economy, while taking the lead as a trailblazer for the industry as a whole," writes the report's author, Catherine Ruetschlin.
An economic policy brief [PDF] from NYU's Brennan Center for Justice, cited by Ruetschlin, says that the average Walmart employee earns $19,226. The industry-wide average is $24,023.