| FAYETTEVILLE, Ark., June 7
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark., June 7 Wal-Mart Stores Inc
announced a new $15 billion repurchase plan at its
annual meeting on Friday and emphasized the advancement
opportunities its workers have, even as a small but vocal group
of workers complained that they cannot make enough money working
for the world's largest retailer.
The retailer's annual meeting, at the Bud Walton arena in
Fayetteville, Arkansas, is more of a pep rally for thousands of
employees than a typical annual meeting. Shareholders attend,
including members of the Walton family, who collectively own
just over half of Wal-Mart's shares. But the largest and loudest
contingent is 14,000 workers from around the world, including
store workers and truck drivers.
The associates, as Wal-Mart calls them, were picked by their
peers and managers to attend Friday's meeting and other events
throughout the week, including concerts featuring Elton John and
country signer Luke Bryan. Friday's meeting was hosted by actor
Hugh Jackman and featured performers such as John Legend.
This year there were also several protests by OUR Walmart, a
union-backed group that hopes to get the attention of the Walton
family and other shareholders. OUR Walmart wants Wal-Mart to
publicly commit to providing full-time work with a minimum wage
of $25,000 a year.
Kalpona Akter, a former garment worker from Bangladesh who
presented a defeated shareholder proposal at the company's 2011
annual meeting, joined the workers to push Wal-Mart for changes
throughout the week. She presented a proposal at Friday's
meeting seeking power for owners of 10 percent of outstanding
shares to call special meetings.
"We have a supply chain out of control, and a failed safety
inspection system, in a country (Bangladesh) where apparel
workers are dying by the hundreds. Could there be any more
pressing case for a special meeting of shareholders?"
The company continues to face pressure from some
shareholders over other issues, including the alleged bribery of
officials in Mexico and a supposed cover-up of the issue
reported by the New York Times in 2012.
The New York City Pension Funds said it would vote its more
than 5.1 million shares against nine of Wal-Mart's 14 board
nominees - including Chairman S. Robson Walton and Chief
Executive Mike Duke.
It is concerned about what it says has been the board's poor
oversight of compliance as well as a lack of overall
independence. Last year, the New York City funds opposed the
election of five directors.
Despite the protests, Wal-Mart has continued to increase
sales and profits, and its shares have risen.
The $15 billion stock repurchase plan is Wal-Mart's first
new authorization in two years.
Some 100 OUR Walmart members who work for Wal-Mart traveled
to Arkansas to protest what they say are Wal-Mart's illegal
attempts to silence critics who want to see changes at the
Wal-Mart employs about 2.2 million people, including 1.4
million in the United States, where it is the largest private
employer. It says that its national average wage for full-time
hourly workers is $12.67 an hour and has not released other
figures. The majority of its hourly associates are full-time
Wages vary in the retail industry, depending on tenure, the
type of work done and other factors. According to data from the
National Retail Federation, retail wages averaged $13.24 an hour
in 2010. At that rate, an employee working 40 hours a week every
week would earn $27,539.20 annually.
OUR Walmart, part of the United Food and Commercial Workers
International Union, cites IBISWorld data from several years
back that showed Wal-Mart associates, on average, earn $8.81 an
hour. Its members also complain that they are not scheduled for
enough hours, sometimes getting as few as 19 or 22 hours per
week. Some Wal-Mart workers use tax-payer funded programs to
support their families.
OUR Walmart says that it is not a union itself, though its
members do pay $5 monthly dues.
Rose Campbell, a 58 year old who says she has worked for
Walmart for four years, said that she is considered a full-time
employee but typically does not get enough hours to work.
She joined OUR Walmart a year and a half ago.
"I'm fighting for my rights to have things better at
Walmart," said Campbell, who makes $9.60 an hour in her
maintenance job at an Illinois store.
Members of the family of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton rank
among the richest people in the world. They collectively own
roughly 1.67 billion shares of Wal-Mart, or 50.76 percent of the
company's outstanding stock.
Wal-Mart's chairman had a net worth of $26.1 billion as of
March, according to the Forbes list of billionaires, making him
the 17th richest person on the list.