Wal-Mart, the bête noire of American labor unions, the king of all low-pay retail, might be kosher with the idea of a minimum wage hike. At least, management says it won't try to block one.
Company spokesman David Tovar tells The New York Times that the company has "decided not to take a position on minimum wage proposals," so long as they don't single out specific employers like the bill it opposed in Washington, D.C., that would have only raised wages at big-box stores.*
If you assume that Wal-Mart is hell-bent on paying its associates as little as possible, its casual attitude here might seem surprising. But it's not really. The company previously backed a minimum wage increase in 2007 and has good reasons to be at ease with the idea today.
First, while most of Wal-Mart's associates don't earn much, the do generally make more than the minimum. Wal-Mart's official figures bounce around a bit, but in November Tovar told me the average hourly worker, not including supervisors, earns $11.83 an hour. In 2011, meanwhile, the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California, Berkeley, estimated that almost 80 percent of their hires earned more than $9.00 per hour.
That's one reason why, as Lydia Dypillis notes, "Wal-Mart is much better able to absorb a minimum wage increase than its smaller competitors," which are more likely to rely on bonafide minimum wage, opposed to merely low-wage, employees. So long as the cost of labor rises for everybody, at least within certain limits, Wal-Mart doesn't have much reason to sweat. Now, if the minimum suddenly shot up so everybody had to pay on a Costco wage scale, that might be a problem for its business model. But the Berkeley paper estimated that if the behemoth from Bentonville were to raise its pay all the way to $12 an hour, it could pass the entire cost onto consumers while raising prices just 1.1 percent for its average shopper.