I’ll be turning 67 soon. I’d love to be able to retire on my birthday. I’d celebrate by spending the afternoon at the mall with my daughter and then start planning little trips to visit relatives.
But even after 22 years of working for Walmart, our nation’s largest employer, I can’t afford to retire any time soon.
Walmart does offer a 401(k) with matching funds. But with a high-deductible health plan and at my wage of just $16.83 an hour, I haven’t been able to save much at all for what should be my “golden years.”
Lots of my fellow Walmart associates are in the same boat. I know this from talking to my co-workers — and because companies have to report how many employees have zero balances in their 401(k) plans. At Walmart, 46 percent have not one dime in their accounts.
The situation for my top boss, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, could not be more different. Would you believe he has more than $169 million in his company retirement account?
These huge gaps are not even unusual.
I just read a new report by the Institute for Policy Studies and Jobs With Justice. They list 22 executives who are set to get monthly retirement checks worth more than what their typical workers make in an entire year.
What’s more, these so-called “top hat” accounts are allowed to grow to massive proportions tax-free — far beyond what any of their workers could legally contribute to a 401(k).
That is, if workers could afford to contribute in the first place. At most of the companies on this list — including Hyatt, Home Depot, Target, Chipotle, Tyson Foods, McDonald’s, and Petco — more than a third of employees with 401(k) plans have zero balances.
It’s just not right for CEOs to have such huge nest eggs while many of their employees have to put off retirement. Seriously — who’s really putting the sweat and blood into these companies? Without frontline workers like my coworkers and me, there would be no profits for those CEOs.
Walmart founder Sam Walton understood this. He’s often quoted saying, “If you want the people in the stores to take care of the customers, you have to make sure you’re taking care of the people in the stores.”
What can CEOs do to take care of their frontline workers? They need to raise wages, give us at least two weeks paid leave, and ensure we have affordable health care benefits. That way workers can stay healthy, put food on our tables, keep roofs over our heads — and save money for retirement.
CEOs and other high-earners should also contribute more to Social Security so we can expand benefits for low-income families.
Right now people making more than $1 million a year stop paying the payroll taxes that fund this critical retirement benefit in February. They should pay all year like the rest of us. And Congress should scrap those tax-free executive retirement accounts and put the savings into Social Security.
I don’t have big fantasies for my retirement — no sailing around on yachts or staying at fancy resorts. What’s really important to me is my family.
I’ve missed so many holidays and other gatherings over the years because I had to work. Now I’d simply like to make up for that by spending more time with relatives, including my grandson, who just graduated from college.
In the world’s richest country, it doesn’t seem like a lot to ask.
Cynthia Murray is a Walmart Associate in Maryland and a board member of United for Respect, a nonprofit labor advocacy organization. This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.
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