Walmart is spending $1 billion to make changes to how it pays and trains US hourly workers as the embattled retailer tries to reshape the image that its stores offer dead-end jobs. As part of its biggest investment in worker training and pay ever, Walmart says that within the next six months, it will give raises to about 500,000 workers, or nearly 40% of its 1.3 million US employees. "We are trying to create a meritocracy where you can start somewhere and end up just as high as your hard work and your capacity will enable you to go," CEO Doug McMillon said during an AP interview this week at the company's headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. The company's average full-time wage will be $13 an hour, up from $12.85. For part-time workers, the hourly wage will be $10, up from $9.48.
The changes, which Walmart announced today as it reported stronger-than-expected fourth-quarter results, come at a time when there's growing concern for the plight of the nation's hourly workers. Thousands of US hourly workers and their supporters have staged protests across the country to call attention to their financial struggles, and business groups and politicians have jumped into the fray, debating a proposal by President Obama to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. A new AP-GfK poll also found that most Americans support increasing the minimum wage. In addition to raises, Walmart said it also plans to make changes to how workers are scheduled and add training programs for sales staff so that employees can more easily map out their future at the company. (Read more Walmart stories.)