Bernie Sanders will attend Walmart's annual meeting to push for higher pay and other labor reforms

Key Points
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders will attend Walmart's annual meeting and introduce a measure to give workers a seat on the retailer's board.
  • Sanders has long pushed Walmart to boost benefits for workers and is trying to appeal to labor during his 2020 presidential bid.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks during a rally at Howard University May 13, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong | Getty Images

Sen. Bernie Sanders will take his fight against Walmart closer to home.

The Vermont independent and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate will attend the retailer's annual shareholders meeting in Arkansas next month, a campaign spokeswoman said Tuesday. He will push to boost pay and benefits for workers and introduce a measure to give hourly employees a spot on Walmart's board.

"If hourly workers at Walmart were well represented on its board, I doubt you would see the CEO of Walmart making over a thousand times more than its average worker," Sanders told The Washington Post, which first reported the news.

In a statement, Walmart said it will "respond to specific shareholder proposals once they are formally presented" at the June 5 meeting.

"If Senator Sanders attends, we hope he will approach his visit not as a campaign stop, but as a constructive opportunity to learn about the many ways we're working to provide increased economic opportunity, mobility and benefits to our associates — as well as our widely recognized leadership on environmental sustainability," the company said.

Sanders has long pushed Walmart, the largest U.S. retailer by sales, to hike its minimum wage to $15 per hour. He introduced a bill last year aiming to push the company to raise workers' pay. The senator has cited the Walton family — relatives of Walmart founder Sam Walton who own about half of the company's shares — as evidence for a "rigged economy" and a need to raise taxes on the wealthy.

Sanders' latest push to change Walmart's practices comes as the roughly two dozen candidates in the Democratic primary field jostle to win workers' support. In a party increasingly focused on populist economic ideas, the candidates vying to challenge President Donald Trump next year have tried to cast themselves as the best option to boost wages and benefits such as health care and parental leave for workers.

Democratic presidential contenders, who broadly back a $15 per hour minimum wage, have put pressure on other major companies early in the campaign. Sanders, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee plan to join striking McDonald's workers during the burger chain's annual meeting Thursday, according to Fight for $15, which advocates for a higher pay floor.

Several candidates, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, also supported workers on strike from grocer Stop & Shop earlier this year.

Sanders will vie with Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden, among others, for support from organized labor. Biden got a major union endorsement from the International Association of Fire Fighters shortly after he launched his campaign last month.

Organized labor traditionally backs Democratic candidates. But Trump performed better with union members in 2016 than Republicans have in recent elections and hopes to keep that support in 2020. Last month, he argued union members "love Trump" even if what he called "Dues Crazy union leadership" does not.

Walmart and McDonald's workers are not unionized, despite some efforts to organize. Walmart says it employs about 1.5 million hourly associates in the U.S.

— CNBC's Lauren Thomas contributed to this report.

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