Target, facing pressure to raise its minimum wage following boosts by Wal-Mart and T.J. Maxx earlier this year, maintains that setting such a number is "unreasonable," even amid new demands from a women's advocacy group.
The group, UltraViolet, is circulating a petition insisting Target raise its minimum wage after Wal-Mart, the nation's biggest private employer, recently shared plans to raise its lowest wage in U.S. stores to $9 this year and $10 in 2016. TJX, the parent company of T.J. Maxx, Home Goods, and Marshalls, made a similar announcement shortly thereafter, while Gap and Ikea promised such changes last year.
Target Chief Financial Officer John Mulligan addressed the wage question at an investor conference last week, saying it's "just not reasonable" to give out "an arbitrary number that's some flat rate that we're going to pay across the country." He admitted that Target may not have been clear enough in expressing that it intends to "pay what we need to pay to get a great team."
"Fixating on some single number, to us, an average number, is unimportant," he said at a March 4 conference held by Bank of America Merrill Lynch. "It's about being competitive locally at a store level within a marketplace. That is important and we're going to be competitive and we're going to pay." He noted that a $9 starting wage would make little sense in markets like North Dakota and New York City where the company has to pay more than that.
But the company's refusal to set a minimum has drawn the scrutiny of advocacy group UltraViolet. The group's co-founder, Nita Chadhary, questioned the retailer's honesty in a statement to BuzzFeed News, accusing the chain of keeping its wages "cloaked in secrecy."
UltraViolet said it took on the cause because nearly two-thirds of minimum-wage workers are women. It's running online ads in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Nebraska that read, "Did you know there's a Wal-Mart near you that pays higher minimum wage than Target?" Each state's minimum wage is $8 or less. The ads direct users to a petition.
A spokesperson for Target told BuzzFeed News that while the chain doesn't share details on wages and benefits, "all of our stores pay more than federal minimum wage."
Separately, Target said Tuesday that it laid off 1,700 workers, mostly from its Minneapolis headquarters. The company, the second-biggest discount retailer in the U.S. after Wal-Mart, has had a rough past two years, with obstacles such as its massive data breach and the failure of its Canadian operation.
Mulligan, speaking at last week's conference, noted Target is assessing what competitors are saying about wages and knows it will have an impact on the company.
"We just don't think it's material," he said. "It certainly has not changed the way we think about the year. So, I'm probably still being unclear, but that's the way we think about it."