The nation’s largest private employer, Walmart, announced on Thursday that they will be raising their minimum wage to at least $9 an hour, according to the Associated Press. The announcement comes after years of public criticism for their low wages and lack of benefits.
The wage increase is part of a larger $1 billion plan for Walmart to change the way they train and pay their employee’s. Not only will the company distribute raises over the next half of a year to 500,000 workers, almost 40 percent of their 1.3 million U.S. employees, they will also change the way workers are scheduled and add training programs for sales people to create longevity and promotions within the company.
“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,” Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said during an interview with the Associated Press.
This new initiative comes amidst months of protest by thousands of U.S. hourly workers calling out big business for their low wages and debates between politicians about increasing the minimum wage. That debate includes President Obama, who proposed to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour.
Walmart expects these changes to hurt their profits this year, adding to the last two years of sluggish sales. The massive retailer is not the first to raise their wages in recent times, following Swedish furniture store Ikea and clothing chain Gap Inc. who raised their wages within the last year.