Aisle 15 Now! New Walmart Ad Shows We’re Winning the Narrative on Wages
If there is a comic book villain in the Fight for $15 it is Walmart, a company as famous for low wages as it is for low prices. The discount retailer’s 1.4 million mostly low-wage employees are icons of the working poor, costing US taxpayers an estimated $6.2 billion a year in Medicaid, food stamps, housing assistance and other public subsidies. And so when Walmart announced earlier this year that it was raising its starting wage to $9 an hour in April, and to $10 an hour in 2016, it was big news.
Walmart had been plagued by high employee turnover, stagnant same-store sales, and a reputation for poor customer service. But in a recent blog post, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon says that his new wage strategy is already paying dividends: “We have seen associate engagement and customer satisfaction scores increase dramatically over the past eight months and comp sales are increasing,” writes McMillon. “Bottom line – it’s working.” But after learning the $1.5 billion cost of next year’s raise would temporarily lower 2017 profit-per-share forecasts, Wall Street handed Walmart’s stock its largest single-day price drop in 15 years.
Corporate short-termism is hard for a CEO to resist, and in past years, McMillon might have caved in to the demands of disgruntled shareholders. But thanks in large part to the Fight for $15 and its dramatic victories in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and elsewhere, the national narrative about wages has changed. And so rather than reversing its strategy, Walmart is responding to investor criticism by re-airing a TV ad touting its “Raise in Pay.”
“Because a raise in pay raises us all,” the narrator concludes, just as the light over aisle 15 winks on. Get it? Aisle 15? It would be downright subliminal if it wasn’t so obvious.
Of course, even at $10 an hour Walmart will still be a low-wage employer with abusive scheduling practices. But when we’ve got the nation’s largest retailer spending its enormous advertising budget advancing our narrative that raising wages is good for business and good for the economy (while giving a friendly nod to the Fight for $15)—that is a sign of a winning movement and a winning message.