I've worked at Walmart for 20 years and can't afford a doctor. Congress needs to pass a $15 minimum wage now.

  • I’m a 64-year-old Walmart employee who just testified to the Senate Budget Committee.
  • Walmart pays its hourly workforce a poverty wage that doesn’t cover basic needs, while the company has profited over $50 billion since the pandemic began.
  • American workers need a $15 minimum wage today — we cannot wait for corporations to do the right thing, because they won’t.
  • Cynthia Murray is a Walmart associate from Hyattsville, MD.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

I’ve worked as a Walmart associate in Laurel, Maryland, for 20 years. I’ve gotten every raise I’m eligible for. But during this pandemic — while the Walton family has pocketed $5.7 million every hour — I’m still struggling to get by.

America faces the greatest economic crisis in a generation, but Walmart’s CEO still says that a $15 minimum wage is too much compensation for frontline workers like me who have put our lives on the line for the last year. 

Walmart’s starting wage is $11. That is a starvation wage that forces working families to turn to programs like SNAP — also called food stamps — and Medicaid just to get by. An annual wage increase for those lowest paid employees amounts to 22 cents an hour, showing that there is no real pathway out of poverty when you’re working at Walmart as a cashier or cart pusher. 

However, Walmart’s board just approved another $20 billion in stock buybacks for the folks at the very top. The problem isn’t lack of money to do the right thing, it is the lack of political will in Congress to stand up to big corporations like Walmart.

That’s why I’m fighting so hard for a $15 minimum wage in the COVID relief package, because nobody working for the richest family in America should be going hungry, or have to choose between paying rent and seeing a doctor.

It’s time to give workers a chance

I took this message to the Senate Budget Committee on Thursday in an attempt to expose Walmart’s greed. I spoke on behalf of the 1.4 million hourly associates who work for Walmart, and as a founding member of United for Respect — a national movement of retail workers fighting for fair treatment and higher pay.

I spoke on behalf of Walmart workers like Kendra Wilson, from Jonesboro, GA. She’s a single mother of two who has worked as a personal shopper for four years. She earns $11.94 an hour and relies on public assistance, Medicaid, SNAP, and local food pantries to provide for her two young sons. 

I also lifted up Walmart workers like Kellie Ruzich and her husband in St. Louis County, MN who support their three children. Kellie makes $12.38, relies on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) for baby formula but doesn’t get enough to get through the month. She’s uninsured because she has to choose between a $85 per month premium to cover her health insurance or having enough money to feed her hungry baby.  She should never have to make that choice when she works for a company as profitable as Walmart. 

I’m nearly 65 years old and I still make just shy of $15 per hour. While my husband and I aren’t on food stamps — unlike so many other Walmart employees who’ve had to turn to public assistance to subsidize Walmart’s poverty wages. But I can’t afford the copay to get an MRI for my back injury that my doctor says I need. I have no retirement plans. And last week, when CEO Doug McMillon announced Walmart would raise its starting wage to at least $15 per hour for a select group of employees, I was left out again, along with most of Walmart’s hourly workforce.

Walmart, the largest corporate employer of Black and Brown people and the largest private employer of women in America, is also again one of the top four employers of SNAP and Medicaid beneficiaries according to the GAO. The numbers can’t be explained away by part-time schedules; about 70% of the 21 million people receiving Medicaid or SNAP benefits work full time.

I wasn’t afraid to testify about this before Congress, but Walmart CEO Doug McMillon didn’t show up. The US Senate, the President, and corporate executives need to know that  American people want the federal minimum wage raised now — it cannot wait another day. 

I grew up in Pittsburgh and my dad had a good union job. We weren’t wealthy, but we had what we needed. Those were the good ol’ days. Today, 40 million people are working in poverty, sometimes two and three jobs. 

Working people deserve basic respect. People like me are putting off retirement and health care, because our lawmakers have put off raising the minimum wage for 12 years.  We must stop being a country of billionaires and working poor. The time to act is now. 

Cynthia Murray is a Walmart associate from Hyattsville, MD, and founding member of United for Respect, a national nonprofit organization and multiracial movement seeking better treatment of retail workers.

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