Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, said on Wednesday that it was increasing the wages for 7,700 of its pharmacists and opticians, as it expands its health business and seeks to retain the workers in a competitive environment.
The retailer said the raise would push the average annual salary of the more than 3,700 pharmacists affected to more than $140,000. Walmart declined to share the current salary rate, saying it was based on location and role.
It said the opticians could now “expect” to make an average hourly wage of more than $22.50. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for a pharmacist in the United States is $129,410 and the mean hourly wage for opticians is $21.58.
Walmart employs 16,000 pharmacists and 12,000 opticians overall.
The company also said it was starting a program in which associates who worked in its Vision Center could receive certification and licensing as a way to move into higher-paying positions.
“We’ve listened to our associates and taken their feedback about how their work environment needs to improve,” Brian Setzer, Walmart’s executive vice president of health and wellness, said on Wednesday at the retailer’s annual shareholder meeting.
Why It Matters: Pay matters in a competitive labor market.
This year, Walmart raised wages for workers across its business as a way to compete for talent. Inflation is affecting not only its shoppers, but also its employees. And the job market continues to be robust, giving workers more options. In January, Walmart reduced its pharmacy hours as it grappled with a tight labor market.
That same month, the company said it was increasing its minimum wage for store workers to a range of $14 to $19 an hour, up from $12 to $18. Its average wage is still not as high as some competitors, like Costco.
Last year, it also raised wages for pharmacy technicians working for Walmart and Sam’s Club to an average of over $20 an hour and promised more frequent raises.
For years, Walmart faced pressure from unions, policymakers and activists to increase its pay for workers in its stores. Because of its scale, Walmart’s recent move to boost pay could signal to the rest of the retail industry that companies still need to provide more incentives for workers to stay competitive in the labor market.
Background: Walmart sees its health business as a way to drive growth.
Walmart opened its first health center in 2019. By providing health care services, the retailer is seeking to gain a deeper foothold in the communities where it operates and grab a bigger share of the billions of dollars Americans spend on medical care each year.
It currently has 32 health centers in the United States, with plans to have more than 75 by the end of next year.
“Strong growth” in its health and wellness category helped drive an increase in the company’s comparable sales for its most recent quarter, John David Rainey, Walmart’s chief financial officer, said this month.
At the same time, there is a shortage of pharmacists across the country. After three years at the front line of helping to battle the coronavirus, a significant number of pharmacy workers burned out and left the industry. In the coming years, the industry is expected to expand more slowly than the national average for other industries, according to a 2021 job outlook report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The report said most of the openings would “result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force.”
What’s Next: Expect more Walmart updates.
This week, Walmart’s executives, store associates and suppliers are gathered in Bentonville, Ark., for the retailer’s annual shareholder meeting.
The company is expected to explain its vision for the year ahead, giving updates about its consumer base, technological innovations and store remodels. Its health business will most likely be a topic of interest for investors and analysts.