How much does the typical employee earn at Walmart, America’s largest private employer?
We don’t know exactly and won’t until next spring, when corporations begin disclosing figures on their median — most typical — worker pay. Federal regulations that went into effect just before Donald Trump took office now require this disclosure.
In the meantime, we do already know how much Walmart’s highest-paid people are making. Publicly traded companies like Walmart have to disclose what they pay their top execs. Most of what they pay comes in the form of stock, and calculating the value of these stock awards can get tricky. Accounting experts regularly disagree on which execs are actually making the most.
Earlier this month, business analysts at Bloomberg chimed in with their latest executive pay scorecard. In 2016, Bloomberg reports, four U.S. corporate executives collected over $100 million each, and a fifth, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, came up just short at $99.7 million.
America’s biggest executive pay package in 2016? That went, says Bloomberg, to an executive at Wal-Mart. Marc Lore, the CEO of Wal-Mart’s e-commerce division, ended the year with a windfall worth an incredible $236.9 million.
A super week 52 times a year
Let’s break that down a little. Lore essentially took in the equivalent of over $4.5 million per week. In effect, Lore earned in a single week what a Walmart worker paid $11 an hour would have to work 199 entire years to match.
This sort of discrepancy doesn’t in the least bother big-time corporate compensation consultants like Steven Hall, the managing director at Steven Hall & Partners. Nine-digit executive pay packages, Hall readily acknowledges, can seem “startling.” But, he adds, these nine-digit executives have “proven talents.”
At Walmart, suggests Memphis retail worker union president Lonnie Sheppard, that magical “proven talent” just happens to include fleecing taxpayers. Walmart pays its workers so little, Sheppard notes, that huge numbers of them “are forced to rely on public assistance programs like food stamps, Medicaid, and subsidized housing.”
In 2014, Americans for Tax Fairness has computed, providing that assistance cost American taxpayers $6.2 billion.
Average Americans, says Sheppard, are paying what amounts to a hidden “Walmart tax” — and the only people who really benefit from this tax subsidy sit in Walmart’s executive suites.
That situation, of course, ought to be reversed. Average Americans shouldn’t be paying a hidden tax that benefits Walmart execs. The tax burden should rest instead on companies like Walmart that pay near-poverty wages — and then expect taxpayers to foot the bill for the hurt that low wages leave in their wake.
So how could we shift the tax burden onto the Walmarts of the world? The British Labour Party has just advanced a new common-sense approach that builds on landmark local action that the Portland city council took this past December.
Labour wants to levy a new tax on corporations that pay executives excessively more than workers. Under the Labour plan, a corporation that pays any executives more than 20 times the national living wage — a standard a bit above the minimum wage — would pay 2.5 percent of that excess over 20 times in tax. And any corporation that pays over 20 times the national median wage, a higher figure, would have to pay a tax of 5 percent on the resulting excess.
Still another Labour proposal would deny all government contracts to companies that pay their top executives over 20 times what they pay their own workers,
Measures like these, says British economist Faiza Shaheen, would “force companies to think twice about unfair wages at the top.”
Marc Lore, once upon a time, might have agreed on the need for that rethinking. Lore, before he joined Walmart, penned an online column entitled “Chasing Money Will Cripple Your Career.”
Lore explained in that piece that he had started his own career in the financial industry, where the workplace culture measures success purely by the size of your bonus. A near-heart attack, writes Lore, changed his thinking. He came to realize, his piece concludes, “that success is not a measure of your salary, title or degree, but the impact you have on others and the collective happiness of the people you touch.”
Pay-ratio taxes, along the lines of what the Labour Party is proposing in the UK, just might help bring that “collective happiness” a little closer.