Walmart’s Shadow Minimum Wage Campaign

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 25 2014 9:43 AM

Walmart’s Shadow Minimum Wage Campaign

452506275-people-protest-outside-a-walmart-in-the-crenshaw
Walmart agrees with the protesters?

Photo by Rpbyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Last week, Walmart flirted with endorsing a minimum wage hike. Really, it did! In the middle of the month, the company was participating with stories about the possibility of backing a new increase. On Feb. 19, Renee Dudley quoted Walmart spokesman David Tovar, who sounded open to the idea.

In the mid-2000s, Wal-Mart backed an increase in the federal minimum wage that eventually took effect in 2007. 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.”

After that piece ran, when reporters followed up, Walmart insisted that it was actually neutral. Lydia DePillis checked lobbying records and found that "its $1,950,000 bill for in-house government relations in the fourth quarter includes a line about 'Discussions regarding minimum wage and the Fair Minimum Wage Act (S. 460).' " So why the denial?

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"I'm wondering whether it may have been intended as a trial balloon," said Ron Unz, the California millionaire and activist who's funding a minimum wage hike amendment on this year's ballot, "and that the Republicans quickly hit the Walmart executives very hard over what they regarded as a political betrayal once it got out across so many major media outlets. After all, the Democrats have decided that raising the MW is one of their central political strategies for 2014, and the Walmart stance would amount to endorsing it. I'd assume Walmart is quite reluctant to risk punishment by the party that controls the House and half the governorships."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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