U.S. Markets open in 5 hrs 18 mins

Walmart CEO: We're going to be criticized

Walmart (WMT), the largest private employer in the U.S., made waves this week when its CEO Doug McMillon called on Congress to raise the “lagging” federal minimum wage.

"[It's] just too low. I mean, $7.25 for the nation is a number that's almost irrelevant at this point," McMillon told Yahoo Finance on Friday after the Shareholders and Associates Meeting. "[We] just want a level playing field. We want everyone to benefit. We want businesses to be on a level playing field."

At the company's formal business meeting on Wednesday, McMillon called on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage. He added that it should be a "thoughtful plan" that "should take into account phasing and cost of living differences to avoid unintended consequences."

"As we go from $11 and higher, market by market, and other retailers have been moving, and other industries are moving, it just feels like it's the right time to address the federal minimum wage," McMillon said.

[See Also: What Walmart CEO Doug McMillon tells people who want his job]

Under McMillon's leadership, the retailer 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. McMillon noted that the company has continued to adjust upward on a market-by-market basis to recruit and retain talent. All-in, the company's hourly associates earn an average of $17.50 per hour.

“Walmart and other businesses are going to be criticized”

Even as Walmart has made these moves, the retailer has continued to draw criticism about its pay practices, most notably from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) who said during the business meeting that Walmart pays its employees "starvation wages."

McMillon told Yahoo Finance he doubts the criticism will ever change.

"I think Walmart and other businesses are going to be criticized," McMillon said. “[Big] picture, there are pressure points, and those are real. And, when people feel pressure, and they worry about their future or their children's future, they're looking for solutions in different places. Sometimes they look to government, and sometimes they look to the private sector, but they're looking for help."

Doug McMillon President and CEO Walmart Inc. presents a promotion to Shabnam Ighani at the 2019 Walmart Shareholders June 7, 2019 in Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

McMillon's goal for Walmart is to be a place where people can get started at an entry-level job and work their way up.

Last year, Walmart promoted 215,000 associates to roles with higher pay and more responsibility.

At the annual meeting on Friday, McMillon promoted Shabnam Ighani, who immigrated to the U.S. from Iran and started as an overnight stocker in 2004, to a store manager in Fairfax, Virginia.

A store manager earns an average of $175,000 per year, Walmart revealed in a recent report. About 75% of the store operations and management team started as hourly associates.

Building trust

At the annual meeting, McMillon spoke about the importance of building trust, something he's previously said is "dwindling," especially among big businesses.

"Sometimes people think big must be bad. So when you're a bigger business that comes with the territory," he said. "I think we are in a position to try and prove to people that a company like ours is worthy of trust."

He highlighted Walmart’s efforts around serving communities, investing in associates, and managing customer privacy.

"Ultimately, we think that trust is our greatest asset, and we have a certain amount of it, and we constantly want to be adding to it with everything that we do. You have to earn it. People don't give it to you."

Julia La Roche is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

Read the latest financial and business news from Yahoo Finance

Follow Yahoo Finance on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flipboard, SmartNews, LinkedIn, YouTube, and reddit.