Walmart Faces Growing Calls for Change at Bentonville Shareholder Meeting and Nationwide
Posted on June 1, 2012 by jway
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 1, 2012
Workers, shareholders and community leaders pledge to continue to fight the company’s double standard
Bentonville, Ark. – Citing failures of leadership and double standards that are hurting shareholders, workers and communities, growing calls for change at Walmart have been surrounding the company’s annual shareholder meeting. Company executives and members of the board of directors have been facing challenges to their leadership on an unprecedented scale through votes against their re-election and protests across the country. The increased pressure, including from civil rights leaders, community groups and workers, led Walmart to announce its withdrawal from the conservative organization ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) yesterday and may have forced some other surprising changes at this year’s meeting, such as a foiled attempt to hold a separate question and answer session – closed to the media – for associate-shareholders and the notable absence of the Return on Investments chart, that would have revealed declines that would show an unfavorable report.
“Walmart’s double standards have got to change. We cannot let top executives and member of the board operate by one set of rules, while Associates are facing understaffing that hurts the stores and keeps our families struggling,” said Jackie Goebel, a 24 year Walmart associate and shareholder who spoke from the floor of the shareholder meeting today. Geobel, a member of OUR Walmart, received stadium-wide applause for her remarks. “Associates and shareholders alike know that executives cannot just talk about integrity for the rest of us, they must live it themselves.”
While meeting organizers tried to move shareholder-associates into a close-door question and answer session, the group refused to be side-lined. Members of OUR Walmart attended the official session, raising questions about retaliation against workers who speak out for change, and why wages are kept so low and hours cut to the point that many workers must rely on public programs to support their families.
Walmart Associate Venanzi Luna, who was one of the first to call for the resignation of Walmart CEO Mike Duke and Board Chair Rob Walton following the alleged bribery scandal reported by the New York Times, delivered her petition with more than 17,000 signatures to executives at the meeting. Luna, Goebel and other associates who are members of OUR Walmart, an organization of, by and for Walmart associates, are seeing increased enthusiasm for their message among their co-workers. In less than two years, OUR Walmart has grown to include thousands of workers in hundreds of stores in more than 40 states, including new members who signed up to join the organization this week.
This year, the company faced previously unseen pressure for changes to the Walmart board with announcements of large voting shareholders withholding votes for the re-election of CEO Mike Duke and Chairman of the Board Rob Walton. Over the past five years, current Board members have averaged 98.4% re-election support.
The largest pension fund in the U.S., and several other large funds, voted their shares for a proposal on executive pay (proposal #6) and against some members of the current board leadership up for re-election, including Walton heir and chairman of the board Rob Walton. The New York Pension Fund was the first to make such an announcement, followed by California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), with 7.7 million shares, California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), which filed a lawsuit in early May in relation to the alleged bribery, the Florida State Board of Administration and the Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Funds.
“The support for change at today’s shareholders meeting is unprecedented,” said John Marshall, senior capital markets analyst with the United Food and Commercial Workers. “While the numbers aren’t out yet, the percentage of Walmart shareholders whose last name isn’t Walton that voted in support of proposal #6 and against the current board of directors is already known to be bigger than most of us expected. Hopefully Walmart is paying attention to the will of its shareholders, and will take steps to introduce more transparency and greater independence at the board level.”
At the same time, Walmart associates, including employee-shareholders, and community activists have been calling for change at protests in the past several weeks, with escalating protests in Bentonville and across the country this week. At more than 200 events nationwide, groups called for the resignations of Duke and Walton and change in the company. These events included a send-off in Los Angeles at LAX on Wednesday for OUR Walmart members heading to Arkansas for the shareholders meeting, a parade in Washington, D.C. on Thursday from a proposed Walmart site to Walmart’s D.C. office, and a press conferences this morning in Chicago. Photos from the parade in D.C. can be seen here, and photos of the LAX send-off can be seen here.
Making Change at Walmart is a campaign challenging Walmart to help rebuild our economy and strengthen working families. Anchored by UFCW, we are a coalition of Walmart associates, union members, small business owners, religious leaders, women advocacy groups, multi-ethnic coalitions, elected officials, and ordinary citizens who believe that changing Walmart is vital for the future of our country. The UFCW and OUR Walmart have provided technical assistance to the four shareholder sponsors of Proposal #6, and we continue to support their efforts to campaign on its behalf.