The world's largest retailer is making a major promise to help veterans, and buy more American products. Walmart is pledging to offer jobs to veterans all over the country within a year of leaving active duty, as long as they were honorably discharged.
The store says they will hire more than 100,000 new employees over the next five years under the plan.
USO of Tampa Bay founder and Air Force veteran Walt Lamerton says the promise will offer a helpful boost to vets looking for a fresh start.
"You just get tired and ready to do something else with your life. This will just give a tremendous opportunity to have that happen," Lamerton said Tuesday.
Walmart says it will begin hiring veterans under this program on Memorial Day.
The retail giant also said its plans include spending $50 billion to buy more American-made merchandise in the next 10 years and helping its part-time workers move into full-time positions.
The move comes as Wal-Mart tries to bolster its image amid widespread criticism. The company, which often is criticized for its low-paying jobs and buying habits in the U.S., recently has faced allegations that it made bribes in Mexico and calls for better safety oversight after a deadly fire at a Bangladesh factory that supplies its clothes. Wal-Mart said its initiatives are unrelated to those events, but rather are meant to highlight that companies don't have to wait for lawmakers in Washington, D.C. to fix the economy.
"We've developed a national paralysis that's driven by all of us waiting for someone else to do something," Bill Simon, president and CEO of Wal-Mart's U.S. business, said Tuesday at an annual retail industry convention in New York. "The beauty of the private sector is that we don't have to win an election, convince Congress or pass a bill to do what we think is right. We can simply move forward, doing what we know is right."
Any changes that Wal-Mart makes to its hiring and buying practices garner lots of attention because of the company's massive size. Indeed, with $444 billion in annual revenue, if Wal-Mart were a country, it would rank among the largest economies in the world. But critics say the changes amount to a drop in the bucket for the behemoth, and they question whether Wal-Mart's initiatives will have a major impact on the U.S. economy.
"America's largest retailers play an important role in our nation's economy and in the well-being of millions of lives," said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. "Retailers like Wal-Mart could provide the nation with a much needed economic boost by paying higher wages and providing stable scheduling - while still remaining profitable and continuing to offer low prices."
Wal-Mart said First Lady Michelle Obama, who spearheaded a White House drive to encourage businesses to hire veterans, has expressed interest in working with Wal-Mart and with the rest of the business community on this initiative.
In the next several weeks, Simon said the White House will meet with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense and major U.S. employers to encourage businesses to make commitments to train and employ American's returning veterans. The first lady on Tuesday called Wal-Mart's announcement "historic."
"We all believe that no one who serves our country should have to fight for a job once they return home," she said in a statement. "Wal-Mart is setting a groundbreaking example for the private sector to follow."
(Material from the Associated Press contributed to this report.)
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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