Walmart Denies Report It's Weighing Support For A Minimum-Wage Hike

02/19/2014 05:56 pm ET | Updated Feb 19, 2014
ASSOCIATED PRESS

Walmart is denying a Bloomberg report that said the nation's largest private employer is considering supporting an increase in the minimum wage.

"We are not at all considering this," Walmart spokesman David Tovar told The Huffington Post Wednesday afternoon, just after Bloomberg published the story.

In the piece, titled "Walmart Says 'Looking At' Support Of Federal Minimum Wage Rise," Reporter Renee Dudley wrote:

Asked whether Wal-Mart would support another raise in the federal minimum wage, Tovar said: “That’s something we’re looking at. Whenever there’s debates, it’s not like we look once and make a decision. We look a few times from other angles.”

According to Tovar, the retail giant has decided to stay neutral in the current debate over whether to raise the national minimum wage to $10.10 per hour from the current $7.25. "If that proposal passes, we'll look then," Tovar said. He said that he told Dudley something similar and that his quote was put in the wrong context.

A Bloomberg representative declined to comment, saying the news organization stands by its reporting.

President Obama first proposed raising the minimum wage last year, and the debate over its economic impact surged into the spotlight again Tuesday, when the Congressional Budget Office issued a report estimating that such an increase would cost the economy 500,000 jobs and lift around 900,000 people out of poverty.

If such a proposal were enacted, Walmart would weigh the costs of raising worker wages against the benefits of 140 million customers seeing a boost in their paychecks, Tovar told HuffPost. "It's difficult to gauge that impact," he said.

A higher minimum wage could be a boon for Walmart's sales.

"Walmart caters to workers on a budget, and they can expect that if those workers get an increase, they will spend the money in their stores," Catherine Ruetschlin, a policy analyst at Demos, a left-leaning public policy organization, told The Huffington Post in September.

Walmart has been suffering in recent months because its customers simply don't have the cash to spend at its stores. The company recently blamed lackluster sales on a recent GOP-led push to cut food stamps, which reduced benefits for all 47 million Americans enrolled in the program.

“The sales impact from the reduction in SNAP [the U.S. government Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] benefits that went into effect Nov. 1 is greater than we expected,” Walmart’s Chief Financial Officer Charles Holley said in a news release last month.

A higher minimum wage would likely mean higher payroll costs for the company. Last summer, Walmart said it would shelve plans to build at least three new stores in D.C. if the city passed a living-wage bill that would require big-box retailers like Walmart to pay a $12.50 minimum wage. The legislation was vetoed by D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray in September.

Walmart hasn't always opposed raising the minimum wage. In 2005, when the minimum wage stood at $5.15, then-chief executive H. Lee Scott Jr. advocated for a wage hike in a speech to company executives, according to the Washington Post.

“Our customers simply don’t have the money to buy basic necessities between paychecks," Scott said at the time. The push from Walmart gave momentum to a debate that would lead Congress two years later to approve a hike to $7.25. The minimum wage hasn't changed since.

This isn't the first time Tovar has called out Bloomberg for its Walmart coverage. Last September, Tovar said a story by Dudley that claimed the retailer was dealing with declining sales was "misleading." At the time Bloomberg told HuffPost that "it stands by its reporting."

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