Activists are pressuring Walmart to add employee representatives to its board of directors

Walmart, the largest private employer in the world, is being challenged by activists to create a place for the company's lower-level employees to be represented on its board of directors, Axios first reported.

Reverend William Barber II of the Poor People's Campaign is set to address Walmart shareholders in a virtual meeting Wednesday to advocate for Walmart employees who have been most affected by the coronavirus pandemic. He will speak in support of a measure floated by employee Cynthia Murray earlier this year to add a representative for hourly workers to Walmart's board.

In prepared remarks shared with Axios, he told Walmart: "Perhaps hundreds of your workers who are not alive today because of this vicious coronavirus that was allowed to spread through your stores, largely in secret, as your workers feared for their lives every day.

"They were too poor to stay home from work, too afraid of retaliation to get the time off," he continued.

A spokesperson for Walmart told Axios that "associates unable to work or uncomfortable working due to COVID-19 have been encouraged to stay home." Earlier this year, Walmart said more than 400,000 workers would receive raises to between $13 and $19 per hour, while the chain's minimum wage remains $11 an hour.

In the US, at least 134 grocery store workers have died due to COVID-19, and 28,700 grocery store workers have been infected or exposed to the coronavirus, according to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

According to Axios, Walmart says it has been working with "third-party advisory councils shaping its thinking in areas including its human rights statement - and that in the past year it raised wages; improved benefits, health and safety measures, and joined efforts involving racial equity."

Walmart did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"There is growing consensus that the presence of employees on corporate boards can contribute to the long-term sustainability of a company," Murray said in her proposal, adding that "while the current Walmart board satisfies independence requirements, it is lacking in representation from the hourly Associates who understand the daily store operations thoroughly."

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