Walmart held its annual business meeting virtually on Wednesday (June 1), marking the second time in two years the retailer has not held a physical meeting and three years since the business meeting was separated from the Friday shareholder event held at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
As expected, shareholders re-elected the following directors to a one-year term:
• Cesar Conde, age 48, chairman of NBCUniversal News Group
• Tim Flynn, age 65, retired chairman of KPMG
• Sarah Friar, 49, director of Nextdoor Holdings
• Carla Harris, 59, senior advisor at Morgan Stanley
• Tom Horton, 60, lead independent director, former chairman of American Airlines
• Marissa Mayer, 46, former CEO of Yahoo, and co-founder of Sunshine Products
• Randall Stephenson, 61, retired CEO of AT&T
• Doug McMillon, 55, CEO of Walmart
• Greg Penner, 52, chairman
• Rob Walton, 77, retired chairman
• Steuart Walton, 40, founder of RZC Investments
Corporate Secretary Rachel Brand also announced the two other company-sponsored proposals that approved the company’s executive pay and ratified Ernst & Young as the company’s independent accountants for fiscal 2023.
The balance of the meeting time was to hear from other shareholders who sought to get more clarity, transparency and due diligence from Walmart on several issues. The Humane Society of the U.S. asked for an animal welfare practices report. The group did not speak at the meeting.
Proposal No. 5 dealt with a pandemic workforce council that United For Respect said was needed. Nichoshe James read an emotional resolution involving the death of her sister Janikka Perry, a 38-year-old Walmart employee in North Little Rock who died on the job in January. James called on attendees to enact what her family and Walmart employees are calling the Perry Policy. James said her sister showed up for her shift at Walmart on Jan. 16 and started feeling sick. She worked her full shift, after which she went to the bathroom and collapsed on the floor where she laid for nearly two hours before help was called. By the time paramedics arrived, it was too late.
“My sister would be alive today if there had been proper workplace policies in place that support and empower associates to leave work when feeling ill without jeopardizing their job,” James said. “Despite our family’s collective grief, we have chosen to turn that grief into action and are calling on Walmart executives to enact the Perry Policy so that associates’ voices are finally heard and what happened to Janikka doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
The Perry policy calls for paid sick leave for all Walmart employees. James said her sister feared she would lose her job if she called in sick or left her shift early. She said workers need a voice on the job with a Workforce Advisory Council that allows associates a say in decision-making around health and safety policies, a real emergency plan led by safety teams of Walmart employees with clear protocols for how workers should respond in emergency situations, equitable policies that support a worker’s need to rest and recover because no one should fear getting written up when they need a day off.
Brand offered condolences from the company and reiterated that Perry was a valued member of the Walmart family. However, Brand said the company asked shareholders to reject the proposal.
“We think the adoption of this proposal is unnecessary because we believe the company has already demonstrated that it took and continues to take appropriate measures in responding to the needs of our associates and customers during the COVID-19 pandemic and because our associates already have many channels through which to communicate and express concerns,” the company noted in its Proxy filing.
None of the other four non-company proposals were approved. The resolutions asked for reports on reproductive healthcare legislation, alignment of racial justice policy and protocols, an audit report on Civil Rights and non-discrimination policies and procedures, accounting of charitable donations down to the store level, and complete lobbying disclosure reports.
The business meeting lasted 30 minutes and then moved into a virtual half-hour question and answer session as executives took questions submitted previously by shareholders of record.
Walmart CEO Doug McMillon was asked if the company was spending too much money in India and detracting from U.S. e-commerce. McMillon said opportunities in India are enormous relative to the investments made. He said the investments in Flipkart are also helping in Walmart’s transformation to a digital company.
Shareholders also wanted to know why the company does not have a mandatory uniform starting wage of $15 per hour. Julie Murphy, chief people officer, said the company instead focuses on helping employees grow their careers. She said the average starting wage in the U.S. is $15.70 per hour. In Arkansas and other low-wage states, the rate is $12 with a raise in 90 days.
Walmart execs were also asked about the retailer’s disappointing first-quarter results that were blamed on lack of execution rather than macro-economic challenges. Brett Biggs, chief financial officer, who is retiring this week, said the company was not concerned about the inventory overruns in the first quarter as the excess will be worked through in the next two quarters. While Walmart’s operating income was lower, he said the cost of carrying the extra inventory did weigh down profits. Biggs reiterated that Walmart has $10 billion of cash on its balance sheet and carries a AA credit rating.
McMillon said supply chain challenges are not as pronounced as they once were. He said a bigger worry was the inflation pressures suppliers are feeling, He said demand was outpacing supply through much of the pandemic, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine added to rising prices as fuel costs have also escalated to record high prices.
“Inflationary pressures are something we need to keep an eye on,” he said.