Walmart (WMT) CEO Doug McMillon called on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage at the retailer’s annual shareholders meeting.
“It's clear by our actions and those of other companies that the federal minimum wage is lagging behind. $7.25 is too low,” McMillon said during the company’s formal business meeting at Walmart’s Shareholders and Associates Week in northwest Arkansas.
He continued: “It's time for Congress to put a thoughtful plan in place to increase the minimum wage. Any plan should take into account phasing and cost of living differences to avoid unintended consequences."
McMillon noted that the company has raised its starting wages by 50% in the last four years to an hourly rate of $11, and expanded a range of benefits for its employees.
"Those of you who follow the company closely know that we've changed a lot over the years," McMillon said.
He added that the company will “continue to adjust up on a market by market basis to recruit and retain the talent we need to run a good business."
Bernie Sanders calls for a living wage of at least $15 an hour
Also in attendance at Walmart’s formal business meeting was Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to present a shareholder proposal pushing for the company’s hourly associates to be considered for board seats.
During his 3-minute remarks, Sanders criticized Walmart’s CEO compensation (his total compensation was $23.6 million last year) and the company’s stock buybacks, which he said benefits the wealthiest.
“Surely, with all that, Walmart can afford to pay its employees a living wage of at least $15 an hour,” Sanders said.
During his remarks, McMillon said that the company has allocated $4.5 billion in pay beyond the traditional annual wage increases for its U.S. stores and clubs. The company also paid its hourly associates $793 million in quarterly cash bonuses last year on top of their wages, he said.
Last year, Walmart promoted 215,000 of its store associates last year to higher paying jobs with more responsibility. In a recent report, Walmart revealed that key department manager can earn up to $24.70 per hour and a store manager can earn an average of $175,000 per year. About 75% of the store operations management team started as hourly associates.
McMillon went on to tout the expanded training for its associates at the Walmart Academies, a free program located in the back of 200 stores. More than 800,000 associates, including 450,000 last year, have completed the training.
Walmart also upped its education benefits, expanding its $1 a day college offering and offering high school students free standardized test prep and flexible work schedules.
Julia La Roche is a finance reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.