Wal-Mart needs to pay its employees a fair wage

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, recently launched a slick, multimillion-dollar ad campaign aimed in part at convincing the public that the company is not the exploitative, anti-labor behemoth critics claim it to be. It would be more impressive if Wal-Mart used the money to provide better wages and benefits for its 1.4 million American employees.

Recently, Wal-Mart workers in Sacramento and across the nation staged a series of protests, claiming the company doesn’t pay a living wage, restricts hours to avoid paying benefits and retaliates against those who seek change. The facts are that Wal-Mart, which profited $15.7 billion in 2012, starts new “associates” at or near minimum wage, and pays its U.S. employees an average of $12.67 per hour. Many must rely on food stamps and other government aid: One study showed that every Wal-Mart in Wisconsin cost taxpayers there between $900,000 and $1.75 million annually in Medicaid and other social services provided to employees.

Wal-Mart offers low prices, but the savings come at a cost to taxpayers, small businesses and others. Many reforms are needed, but Wal-Mart should begin by giving its workers what they’re asking for: a starting wage of $13 per hour, full-time employment for those who want it, and policies that ensure an end to discrimination and retaliation.