Wal-Mart Shareholder Week Brings Crowds, Celebrities, Concerts And Protestors

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 146 views 

The countdown has begun again on what is arguably one of the region’s biggest events each year: The Wal-Mart shareholders meeting. More than 5,000 Wal-Mart workers from around the globe began flying into Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport on Sunday (May 31).

Workers participate in a week of events that culminate Friday morning in a business meeting that has morphed over the years into a pep rally, concert, international festival and fancy power point presentation of financial highlights.

This year’s annual shareholder meeting will be webcast for the public to see. The festivities begin about 7 a.m. on Friday (June 5.) The meeting webcast can be viewed live at this link.

Lodging at the University of Arkansas was ready when guests began signing in on Sunday. Each year the UA works with Wal-Mart during shareholders week providing room, board and meeting spaces for the week-long event. Last year, Wal-Mart paid the UA approximately $1.5 million, including nearly $1 million for the use of facilities in connection with the annual shareholders’ meeting and the week-long events, according to disclosures in the retailer’s recent proxy filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Steve Voorhies, manager of university media, told The City Wire that Wal-Mart reserved 5,051 beds for the visiting workers who eat and sleep on campus. The room rate is $28 per night. The bed count is up from about 4,800 last year. Housing and dining costs each approximate $500,000.

He said the UA housing and hospitality staff has spent the last three months preparing for this week. The dining services department will provide three meals a day or about 72,000 for the week. They also provide snacks and special food to the celebrity guests and entertainers for Friday’s meeting, according to Voorhies.

With dining and housing, Voorhies said the cost is a little more this year given the higher head count. Added security is needed for the week which costs Wal-Mart about $130,000, most of which is paid to the UA police. The college also makes about $78,000 in parking fees with another $5,200 earned in facilities fees. He said there is no charge for the use of Bud Walton Arena, but Wal-Mart does pay for the event set-up.

Kayla Whaling, media spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, said it’s a full week of activities for those attending on behalf of their stores. Each worker delegate who attends is chosen by their peers in their store. She said workers living within 10-hours of Bentonville are bused into the region for the week. That’s about 30 bus loads. The others are flown into XNA.

“When they get to town, they tour the home office and the Wal-Mart Museum so they can get a real sense of the company’s origins. They will attend the associates’ meetings on Wednesday at the UA and they also take part in the associates’ expo, which is being held at the Washington County Fairgrounds in Fayetteville,” Whaling said.

The retailer also organizes two concerts for its employees, which will take place on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings (June 2-3) at Bud Walton Arena. This year, Whaling said Train and Lighthouse will perform on Tuesday (June 2) while Lynyrd Skynyrd will perform on Wednesday night (June 3).

“We’re expecting more than 14,000 to attend the actual shareholder meeting on Friday (June 5). It’s anybody’s guess who will take the stage that day,” Whaling said.

In past years, guest hosts have included: Harry Connick Jr., Hugh Jackman and Justin Timberlake. While guest entertainers have ranged from Pharrell Williams to Taylor Swift. Superstars like Mariah Carey, John Legend, Celine Dion and Josh Groban have also appeared in recent years.

Shareholders’ week also typically includes protestors from organizations like OUR Walmart which is backed by the United Commercial Food Workers union. This vocal group continues to petition the retail giant to pay a living wage of $15 per hour. The group began their demonstrations last week.

On Thursday (May 28) in Los Angeles, two dozen Wal-Mart workers began a 24-hour fast. The demonstration march culminated in a protest and community sit-in action outside the Walmart Chinatown store where workers wore masking tape over their mouths to protest the company’s silencing of those who speak up for change, said Marc Goumbri, media spokesman for the group.

The group said it will be in Bentonville this week.

Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon and the company committed $1 billion to pay raises and training this year with the starting pay raise to $9 per hour, with most earning at least $10 per hour before year-end.

OUR Walmart has thanked the retailer for acknowledging the need for high worker wages, but said the company stopped short of the $15 per hour they say is needed.