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Wal-Mart Could Pay Every U.S. Employee $14.89 Just By Not Buying Its Own stock

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Wal-Mart could afford to hike every U.S. employee’s hourly wage to at least $14.89 an hour just by not repurchasing its own stock, according to a new report from the progressive think tank Demos.

“We find that if Walmart redirected the $7.6 billion it spends annually on repurchases of its own company stock, these funds could be used to give Walmart’s low-paid workers a raise of $5.83 an hour, more than enough to ensure that all Walmart workers are paid a wage equivalent to at least $25,000 a year for full-time work,” authors Catherine Ruetschlin and Amy Traub write in the Demos paper, “A Higher Wage Is Possible: How Walmart Can Invest in Its Workforce Without Costing Customers a Dime.” Demos, whose funders include unions, is releasing the paper Tuesday morning.

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest private employer, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In an emailed statement yesterday, the company announced that it had “surprised more than 350 associates today with on-the-spot promotions during multi-city, town hall meetings” it called “one way the retailer is listening to, learning from and thanking associates for the hard work they do every day.” That statement did not address the news, announced by labor activists Monday afternoon and confirmed that night by the National Labor Relations Board, that the federal agency was prepared to issue a complaint against the retailer for alleged violations of workers’ legal right to organize and strike.

Wal-Mart announced $15 billion in additional stock repurchases at its June annual shareholder meeting, which was attended by thousands of workers flown in from around the world by Wal-Mart, as well as dozens of striking Wal-Mart worker-activists from the labor group OUR Walmart. Also noting a Bloomberg estimate that Wal-Mart repurchased roughly $36 billion in stock in the four prior fiscal years, Ruetschlin and Traub write that the purchases “further consolidated ownership of the company in the hands of the heirs to company founder Sam Walton,” securing the Walton family a bare majority stake in the company, and “increased the value of ownership among the Waltons and the other remaining shareholders.” But they contend the buybacks “did nothing to boost Walmart’s productivity or bottom line and had no direct benefit for Walmart’s customers or frontline employees.”