America's 5 biggest low-wage employers

Two-thirds of workers earning under $10 an hour work for large corporations. Here are the biggest employers in low-wage industries.

By 247 Wall St. Nov 21, 2012 4:33PM

Image: Man holding empty wallet ©, Image Source, Getty ImagesBy Trey Thoelcke, Michael Sauter, Alexander E. M. Hess and Samuel Weigley, 24/7 Wall St.


The gap between rich and poor is well illustrated by the large multi-billion-dollar corporations employing thousands of low-wage workers. With the Great Recession over, not only are many of these companies now hitting record profits, but their executive pay remains spectacularly high.


Yet, according to a refport released by the National Employment Law Project, the current federal minimum wage the workers are often paid, is worth 30% less than it was in 1968 in terms of purchasing power.


Two-thirds of low-wage workers -- those that are paid less than $10 an hour -- are employed by large corporations with at least 100 employees reports NELP. All of the largest companies in low-wage industries, including McDonald’s (MCD)and Wal-Mart Stores (WMT), have hundreds, even thousands, of stores across the country. Based on NELP’s July 2012 report, "Big Business, Corporate Profits, and the Minimum Wage," 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 12 American companies that pay the least. You'll find the biggest 5 listed below.


These employers fall into one of two categories. They are are either large national restaurant chains employing tens of thousands of cashiers and cooks, or large national retailers, employing tens of thousands of cashiers and salespeople.


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In addition to low wages, many of these companies have a history of poor labor relations that extends beyond underpaying their employees. Long hours, unsafe or unpleasant working conditions, limited benefits and restricting access to full-time work, often accompany minimum wage jobs in many of these companies.


The recession has affected every company on this list. Many used the downturn to explain reductions in employee benefits, long hours, and continued low pay. However, the recession is over for a majority of minimum-wage employers. Nine of the 12 companies on this list have been profitable for the past three years. Of these 12 companies, a full ten had higher revenue compared to 2010.


Despite this fact, improvements in employee benefits or an increase in pay have not materialized for workers at most of the companies on the list.


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Based on the National Law Employment Project’s report, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 12 largest companies in industries that are primarily low-wage employers. The report also provided the most recent available data on the total size of the companies’ workforces, the recent performance of the corporations in terms of revenue and profit, and the highest executive pay at these companies. 24/7 Wall St. also reviewed revenue, income, and the number of stores from company filings.

These are the companies paying Americans the least.

1. Wal-Mart Stores (WMT)
 U.S. workforce: 1,400,000
 CEO compensation: 
$446.95 billion
 Net income: 
$15.70 billion
 No. of U.S. stores: 

The labor practices of Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) have long received negative attention in the press, but that has not affected investors much. WMT’s share price rose more than 48% in the past five years. In 2008, Walmart agreed to pay $640 million in settlements of dozens of class-action lawsuits that claimed the company deprived workers of pay for time worked. In October a class action lawsuit was filed in a Chicago federal court alleging that the retailer had violated minimum wage and overtime laws. Walmart workers have begun to strike, and some plan to walk off the job on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. Walmart has filed an unfair-labor-practice complaint against the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union to prevent this from happening.

2. Yum! Brands (YUM)
 U.S. workforce: 880,330
 CEO compensation: $20,411,852
$12.63 billion
 Net income: 
$1.33 billion
 No. of U.S. stores: 


Because Yum! Brands (YUM), the operator of the Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC chains, is one of the biggest employers of low wage workers, it takes benefits seriously. According to watchdog group Center for Media and Democracy, the fast food giant co-chaired the labor and business regulation subcommittee of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a "corporate-funded bill mill" that encourages laws that benefits its corporate members. At a 2011 meeting, attendees considered model bills designed to override paid sick leave legislation in the states. In 2012, following negative press over ALEC initiatives and the departure of McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Yum! Brands became one of several large companies to abandon the council.


3. McDonald’s (MCD)
 U.S. workforce: 859,978
 CEO compensation: 
$27.01 billion
 Net income: 
$5.50 billion
 No. of U.S. stores: 


McDonald’s (MCD) is the king of fast-food, with revenue greater than any other restaurant operator on this list, and far more locations as well. The company’s website offers a long list of awards and recognition for the diversity of its workplace. But even McDonald’s is not immune to economic pressures. The company just reported its first monthly drop in global revenue at locations open more than a year, down 1.8% in October. McDonald’s USA president, Jan Fields was subsequently ousted to be replaced by Jeff Stratton, who is currently global chief restaurant officer.


Target (TGT)
 U.S. workforce: 365,000
 CEO compensation: 
$69.87 billion
 Net income: 
$2.93 billion
 No. of U.S. stores: 


Shortly after competitor Wal-Mart announced that it would open its doors for Black Friday shoppers at 8 p.m. Thursday, Target (TGT) then said that it would also open its doors Thursday night. Employees were not thrilled by the news. One California-based Target worker drafted a petition calling on Target to "save Thanksgiving" and stick to its Friday opening time. More than 220,000 people have signed the petition. Target insists that it took employees into consideration before making the decision to open early. One executive said, "We had so many team members who wanted to work on Thursday that hundreds of our stores are now keeping lists of volunteers who want to work if shifts open up."


5. Sears Holdings (SHLD
 U.S. workforce: 264,000
 CEO compensation: 
$41.57 billion
 Net income: 
-$3.11 billion
 No. of U.S. stores: 

Many companies like to tout how important their employees are, and Sears Holdings (SHLD) is no different. "Our associates are at the heart of our company and we value teamwork, integrity, and positive energy," says the company’s website. Unfortunately for the employees, the operator of Sears and Kmart has struggled in recent years, as evidenced by its recent massive $3.11 billion net loss, despite having revenue of $41.6 billion. In addition, similar to Walmart and Target, Sears and Kmart stores will be open on Thanksgiving for early Black Friday shopping, meaning the employees will have to work this holiday. Sears said it expects holiday hiring to be about the same as a year ago, while Walmart, Toys"R"Us and other retailers increased their seasonal hires.


Click here to read the rest of 24/7 Wall St.'s "Companies paying Americans the least."

Nov 22, 2012 10:00PM
All I have to say is Duh.  When a company rakes in billions but pays its employees weakly and only parttime is given to the vast majority, that says something about who they care about.  I have talked to a lot of my co-workers - the majority (especially those with families) are on Federal assistance because the company does not hire full time for most positions.  The low wages and insufficient hours makes this company one of this countries largest "WELFARE recipients"...after all, if  the employer does not pay a living wage and does not cover its own employees health, then the employer is receiving Federal aid even tho it is not directly.  And I am betting this company also does not pay taxes (loopholes) and receives monies from Uncle Sam for hiring handicapped and other minorities.  

We need to take back America - and it is NOT thru big business.

Nov 22, 2012 8:27PM
America has changed. The working people of this country and the small business man need to figure out that we need to stick together. We need a working peoples party that represents the workers. We have been hijacked buy the rich, corporations and the banks. Who writes the tax codes? Its not the commons!
Nov 22, 2012 8:17PM
These companies never work anyone 40 hours a week so they don't pay overtime, don't give health benefits(walmart), no vacation checks, retirement etc. Walmart would rather let the states cover there health and welfare cost for there employees. Oh ya and Walton's are the !% and have attorneys shelter their fortunes in offshore accounts but you other 99% pay your taxes and shut up. Thank God for Unions so some of us still get payed and treated like humans beings. Workers in this country need a third party that represents working people.
Nov 22, 2012 8:01PM
The pay and benefits suck, but where is the bitching about YUM, MCD, and Target, everyone seems to pick on WMT.  Wonder how many of you bitching about WMT go  thru the drive thru at MCD or YUM on the way to Target, or anywhere else that is perceived as cheap?  

Nov 22, 2012 7:45PM
labor unions are one of the main reason many companies are gong out of business in this economy. wanting more benefits..i.e hostess (one of the best companies to work for). they need to get rid of all labor unions. should just be happy to have a job right now!
Nov 22, 2012 7:22PM
Get an education and you won't have to work at a job like this. If you are an unskilled worker, you are not going to make much money. How much should a burger flipper get paid anyway? Those are part-time jobs for kids in high school, not an adult unless they are looking for extra cash.
Nov 22, 2012 6:19PM

Most if not all low paying companies do not want workers to unionize because it will cause them money in the form of having to pay their employees more money and give them benefits and over time pay


I worked for one of these companies they tell you that you can make all sorts of earnings but in reality you would have to work 80 - 90 hours a week to make a living wage.


practices like paying employees piece rate should stop


on their bulletin board was posted that employees should apply for food stamps ( income eligible)    

Nov 22, 2012 4:09PM
You forgot Carolina Biological Supply Company!
Nov 22, 2012 3:38PM
On the American Continent the United States is the lone winner of working generously well enough to keep costs of doing business down?
Nov 22, 2012 3:15PM
I could be wrong, but I'll say that all the union haters are people that admire slavery first, and good ole 'behind-kissing to get ahead in life' second. They talk about hard work to deserve advancements which they know only come to those not considered minorities in the workplace. It's just like this situation with our president. Once he was elected, they did everything possible to bind and handcuff him; and then next thing they said was 'See! He is doing anything!'. Unions have made it possible for more children to go to school, instead of working in factories, and for females to get jobs without giving sexual favors to bosses, and for minorities to support their families while breathing the stench of discrimination.
Nov 22, 2012 1:26PM
Let's do the math here. Even if a CEO making $20 million works for free and gives his salary to the workers...if he has 1,000,000 employees, everyone gets a raise of $20 per year. If an employee is working 20 hours a week, that's a raise of less than .02 per hour.
Nov 22, 2012 1:06PM

My brother was in a union at a paper mill.  The company shut the mill down and moved the work to China.  The bakers union at Hostess asked for more and Hostess shut the company down and went into bankruptcy.  Unions only work for occupations that cannot be outsourced such as nurses, teachers, firefighters & police, etc.


What good is a union asking for more for the workers if the company says "get lost" and shuts down or moves?  You can't squeeze blood from a stone.

Nov 22, 2012 1:05PM
Let's see... $18 million and change, for the CEO...that's a lot.  Divided by 1,400,000 employees... that's about $1 per month per employee.  So, once again, confiscating the entire earnings of the job-creators would do nothing to improve the earnings of the employees.  Far more important, what would happen if these 5 "evil" employers went out of business?  First, 3,769,308 would be out of work, and supported by your taxes. Terrible!  But even worse, it would devastate 10's of millions of families who's budgets now depend on those low product prices.
    "Easy" or "politically popular" solutions are seldom correct and their unintended consequences usually are disastrous.  For example, because the good idea of universal health care was ill-designed, secretly crafted and poorly implemented, Obamacare, has already cost millions of jobs.  The real toll on jobs and our economy will be devastating.   
Nov 22, 2012 12:33PM

If the only way a business is profitable is to screw it's employees with crappy wages then is the business actually viable? 

If Welfare Mart was making poor profits they might have a case for low wages but the last few years record profits on the back of their slaves sorry associates.

If there was something better the workers would take it unfortunatly the jobs were outsourced by the same CEO's making the bonuses. 

So if you can't force them to pay better and their employees need government assistance then maybe these rich CEO's should pay for it.  TAX THE F'ING RICH!!!!!

They allready pay most of the taxes.......... well stop shipping jobs overseas and the the tax base would be larger and you wouldn't have to pay all the taxes.  Until then TAX THE F'ING RICH.

Nov 22, 2012 12:19PM

Doesn't it bother anyone that the American taxpayers are having to foot the bill for foot for all these companies? 

If companies paid a "living" wage there would be more money to buy the products the company makes.  If no one makes enough money to buy a product from a company...  How long do you think that company will stay in business?  CEOs compensation have went up 200% to 600% in the last 20 to 30 years.  The workers wages have stagnated.  Companies are making profits, some even record profits. 

And for all those who fuss about the 47%...   Wouldn't it be nice if those "working poor" could afford to pay taxes?  If they had a decent wage, then they could...  It would increase our revenue and reduce our expenses!  Common Sense!  By the way a lot of the 47% are the elderly and the disabled...

Smaller businesses would need some help and it could be given.  We need to help the small businesses as much as possible.  For too long have big corporations been catered to at the expense of the workers and the smaller competitors...

Nov 22, 2012 12:02PM
These companies should be applauded for hiring people that do not have any skills that would add value to most other employers. Except government. Keep doing what you are doing and you will keep getting what you are getting. 
Nov 22, 2012 11:24AM
Gees, I guess it wasn't such a cool idea to quit HS afterall.
Nov 22, 2012 11:19AM
ceo-s with an annual income of 18,19,and 20 million a year-courtesy of millions upon millions of employees working for poverty level wages trying to feed their families ---------am i the only one that can see something wrong here ?
Nov 22, 2012 11:03AM
Who is JOHN GALT????? There is only one answer JOHN GALT IS US............
Nov 22, 2012 10:44AM
On this Thanksgiving holiday, I wish you all happiness, health, and prosperity.

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