Source: WGBH News By: Mike Deehan
Beacon Hill was host to plenty of guests and interest groups Tuesday, but one event in particular drew Gov. Charlie Baker’s attention: Walmart. Baker joined Walmart managers, workers and suppliers for a celebration of the retail giant’s economic impact in Massachusetts, part of what could be seen as the local front of a charm offensive from the world’s biggest company.
And that economic impact is a large one for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and nationally. According to company data, Walmart serves 245 million customers and generates almost half of $1 trillion in sales. The chain employes 11,220 associates in its 49 Massachusetts stores and three Sam’s Club locations. The company says in a release that it pays an average wage of $13.95 an hour and spent $2.8 billion in Massachusetts last year.
The Bentonville, Ark., chain has also been turning heads recently with a series of wage increases that might improve things for their employees as well as their public image. The company announced earlier this year it would raise wages for thousands of workers to well above the federal minimum wage, then followed it up with raises for thousands more.
Labor leaders have criticized Walmart for what they call anti-union practices and wages they say are well below livable levels.
“Walmart can really help the communities out if they truly paid better wages and provide more benefits, more full-time jobs for the workers at their stores,” United Food and Commercial Workers International Union local 1145 political director Jim Carvalho told WGBH News Tuesday. “That will help them improve the quality of life in the communities even more so than the one-time contributions that they do like to make.”
Walmart vendors and nonprofits that benefit from Walmart’s charitable foundation showed off their wares for Baker inside the State House’s Great Hall — one of the biggest and boxiest of Beacon Hill venues.
Before about 100 people, Baker praised Walmart for bringing jobs to all parts of the state and thanked its staff.
“Suppliers, absolutely. Employees, managers, associates, definitely. But also Walmart plays a role a positive role as a participant in a number of different community based organizations that make a big difference in the place where many of us live,” Baker said.
This isn’t the first time Baker’s crossed paths with the retailer. Walmart donated a cool $10,000 to help pay for Baker’s inaugural ceremonies.