Wal-Mart bumps its minimum wage to $9 an hour, but workers say it "still falls short"

Wal-Mart announced a new minimum wage this week, but it's still not a living wage for many families scraping by

Published February 19, 2015 4:49PM (EST)

  (AP/Brennan Linsley)
(AP/Brennan Linsley)

Wal-Mart announced Thursday that it will raise all of its full-time and part-time employees’ pay to at least $9 an hour starting in the spring. The company also said it will raise its minimum wage to $10 an hour by 2016. According to a statement, average hourly wage for full-time workers will also increase from $12.85 to $13 an hour. Wal-Mart will spend $1 billion in the process of raising its wages and changing training programs for employees. This year, the company reported $485.7 billion in revenue and $16.4 billion in net income.

“These changes will give our U.S. associates the opportunity to earn higher pay and advance in their careers,” said Wal-Mart president and CEO Doug McMillon. “We’re pursuing a comprehensive approach that is sustainable over the long term.”

Organizers celebrated the announcement as a victory for employees agitating for fair wages, but said that the pay bump “still falls short” of the living wage and reliable hours workers need.

“We are so proud that by standing together we won raises for 500,000 Walmart workers, whose families desperately need better pay and regular hours from the company we make billions for. We know that this wouldn't have happen without our work to stand together with hundreds of thousands of supporters to change the country's largest employer,” said Emily Wells in a statement from OUR Walmart, an organization of Wal-Mart workers organizing for better wages and working conditions.

But erratic scheduling still makes earning a living as a Wal-Mart employee difficult, if not impossible, at $9 and $10 an hour, she noted: "Especially without a guarantee of getting regular hours, this announcement still falls short of what American workers need to support our families. With $16 billion in profits and $150 billion in wealth for the owners, Walmart can afford to provide the good jobs that Americans need – and that means $15 an hour, full-time, consistent hours and respect for our hard work.”

Wells’ point about a $15 minimum wage is particularly relevant to working parents. A single, childless full-time Wal-Mart employee earning the new minimum wage of $9 an hour in Maryland will still fall short of a living wage by $2.24, according to MIT's living wage calculator. If the same worker has one child, the new wage falls short of a living wage of $22.88 by nearly $14.

The issue of erratic scheduling is equally important to working parents. Last year, I interviewed Tiffany Beroid, a former Wal-Mart employee, about her struggle to find steady hours. “Working with erratic scheduling was really rough, particularly when I became a student and requested a steady schedule,” she said. “Wal-Mart did end up giving me a steady schedule, but they cut my hours. So even though I was full-time in their system, some weeks I would get 19 hours, some weeks I would get 35. It all depended on what they wanted to give me that week.”

A piece in the Washington Post this week examined the impact of small bumps to the minimum wage and found that they do little to lift individuals and families out of poverty, but can help cover necessary expenses. Shanna Tippen, who the Post interviewed after she received a 25-cent raise, from $7.25 to $7.50, said she is still $200 short on her expenses each month, but is now able to buy diapers for her grandson.

”Not much difference,” Tippen told the Post. Except, that is, for the diapers. “They’re $24.98 at Wal-Mart."

The new minimum wage at Wal-Mart may still fall short of what many workers need to survive, but it's a clear sign that years of protest and solid organizing among workers have pressured the mega-retailer to change, and organizers like Wells know it and will continue to work for a minimum wage of $15 and reliable hours. The company is addressing the very issues that we have been raising about the low pay and erratic scheduling, and acknowledging how many of us are being paid less than $10 an hour, and many workers like me, are not getting the hours we need,” she said.

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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Labor Rights Living Wage Our Walmart Wal-mart Workers' Rights