Warren puts pressure on Wal-Mart

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenCures bill clears first Senate hurdle House GOP to unveil short-term funding bill Tuesday Juan Williams: McConnell won big by blocking Obama MORE (D-Mass.) and a host of left-leaning groups are setting their sights on Wal-Mart as they push for improved treatment of workers.

Warren joined with Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), labor advocates, and employees of the retail chain to criticize its wage and scheduling policies, and push for Congress to force changes to better accommodate workers.

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“It is good to hear workers’ voices in the halls of Congress,” said Warren. “No one in this country should work full-time and still live in poverty, and that’s what raising the minimum wage is all about.”

Miller said companies “conspired” to keep workers down, and it was up to policymakers to improve worker conditions.

“This is about the simple dignity of the people that you’ve hired to work,” he said. “We have to override what the policies are in a place like Wal-Mart.”

The lawmakers were focused on a trio of bills that have stalled in Congress and appear less likely than ever to gain traction as Republicans have made gains in the House and won a majority in the Senate. Democrats made economic inequality a common theme leading up the midterm elections. But they failed to pass bills like a minimum wage hike and suffered significant losses at the polls.

Warren and others would like to see Congress pass legislation that raises the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, ensures that companies cannot fire or punish workers for asking about wages, and protects employees from last-minute scheduling changes.

Warren readily acknowledged that these measures face long odds, but she struck an optimistic tone over the long run.

“We might not pass these three bills right away,” she said. “But don’t kid yourself about the importance of these bills and the assurance that we’re eventually going to get them through.”

The event came as some workers and advocates are building a campaign to strike at the retailers at the opening of the busy holiday shopping season. Warren and Miller were joined at the event by members of the OUR Walmart, a collection of company workers pushing for a boost in wages and other general workplace improvements.

The push at Wal-Mart comes as workers in other generally low-paying retail jobs have aired similar discontent and pushed for better treatment. Fast-food workers have gone on temporary strikes multiple times in recent months to call for better wages.