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Walmart CEO not concerned about minimum wage hike, says company pays a higher rate now

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Walmart CEO Bill Simon, left, speaking on stage at a different event
Walmart CEO Bill Simon, left, speaking on stage at a different event - (Bloom Energy / Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/7HeyUx)

What does the CEO of nation's top retailer think of next Tuesday's ballot proposal to increase the minimum wage in New Jersey?

Not much.

Because, Walmart's Bill Simon said, it won't have any impact on his workforce in the state.

Simon, who helped Walmart kick off the holiday retail season Tuesday morning by promoting a number of employees at the Secaucus store, said virtually none of the company's employees make minimum wage.

"Less than 1 percent of our workforce around the country earns the minimum wage," he said. "We don't pay minimum wage hardly at all."

Simon, the U.S. CEO and president of the company, said the country needs to provide workers with pathways to better jobs.

To that end, Walmart said 25,000 employees nationwide were being promoted this quarter.

"The problem with our economy is, it's not where you start it's where you go," Simon said. "One of the reasons we wanted to celebrate people who are moving up here is that we provide an opportunity for people not only to enter the workforce, but to grow in the workforce, and that is so much more important than where you start."

Simon cited the company's U.S. manufacturing initiative, aimed at creating good jobs. In January the company announced it would buy an additional $50 billion in U.S. products over the next 10 years.

In August Walmart reduced it sales growth forecast for this year to between 2 and 3 percent, compared with the previous estimate of 5 to 6 percent. The holiday retail season is unusually compressed with 25 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, compared with 31 days last year.

"We are sort of a snap shot of America: what happens in our country happens here," Simon said. "So as our customers struggle to figure out what's going on in Washington, whether taxes are going up or down, whether the healthcare bill is up or down - you sort of see that in our business as well."

Simon, however, is confident about the future.

"I never cease to be amazed about the resilience and the optimism and the intelligence of the customer," he said. "They figure out how to survive, they figure out how to adapt, they figure out to provide for their families and that's where we play a role. And the more important price is to them, the more important we are to them."

Asked which competitors worry him the most, Simon said, "All of them."

"There's some really, really good competitors out there, online and offline," he said. "Amazon is a force to be reckoned with online, but Target is great and has been for many, many years. Best Buy has had their problems but they are coming back strong. We love competition, we just think we perform better when there is really strong competition."

In New Jersey, Walmart has 67 stores and 18,287 employees. The company said its average wage in New Jersey is $13.28 an hour for regular, full-time hourly workers.

 

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald reports on health care, small business and higher education. She joined NJBIZ in 2008 after a 34-year career at the Star-Ledger and has been reporting on business in New Jersey since 1978. Her email is beth@njbiz.com and she is @bethfitzgerald8 on Twitter.

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