Elizabeth Regan
Paul Filson, Ann Pratt and Jo Winch (Elizabeth Regan)

A group of approximately 25 people delivered a message, complete with an invoice for $2.2 billion, to a Hartford Wal-Mart manager Wednesday morning to protest the effect of untaxed corporate assets on the Connecticut economy.

Protest organizer Ann Pratt, of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, said the corporation owes its workers higher wages and it owes the state more taxes. She cited statistics from a report released last week by the progressive group Americans for Tax Fairness that said Wal-Mart is hiding $76 billion in assets overseas.

The protesters walked in a circle on the sidewalk in front of the building to chants of “low pay is not okay,” “beat back the Wal-Mart attack,” and “pay your taxes” before several community activists took a turn at the bullhorn.

Hartford City Councilor Larry Deutsch referenced several Hartford police officers who were monitoring the scene when he told protesters about the effect corporate tax avoidance has on Hartford.

“I say to those who are employees of the city, including the police officers here, the city will not have enough money to fund the pensions, to fund additional officers, to fund salaries if we do not get our money from the state if the state doesn’t get it from a company like Walmart,” Deutsch said.

The protest came as lawmakers prepare for a special session next week to tie up the loose ends of a two-year, $40.3 billion budget they approved June 3. After the budget was panned by the business community, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told legislators he wants to roll back about $223.5 million in tax increases and wants them made up through spending cuts.

Pratt and former Hartford City Councilor Jo Winch tried to give a Wal-Mart manager a symbolic invoice for the total, hypothetical amount small businesses in the state would have to pay to make up for all the revenue lost to corporations exploiting tax havens.

But the $2.2 billion figure, culled from a report by public advocacy group U.S. PIRG, represents allegedly untaxed assets from many other corporations besides Wal-Mart.

The manager, who would not give her full name, declined to accept the “invoice.”

“Even this young lady probably doesn’t even make $15 an hour herself, and she’s a manager at a big corporation like Walmart in the city of Hartford,” Winch said.

But that didn’t stop protesters from screaming “take the invoice” at the retreating woman and chanting an aggressive round of “pay your bills.”

Elizabeth Regan

Wal-Mart Spokesman Randy Hargrove characterized Americans for Tax Fairness as a union-supported organization that regularly issues flawed reports in support of its own agenda. He said the study is based on “incomplete, erroneous information designed to mislead readers.”

Hargrove said Wal-Mart paid $33.9 million in taxes to the state last year. The corporation operates 39 retail stores in Connecticut with 8,830 employees, according to Hargrove.

Those employees make an average of $13.85 per hour, he said.

Winch told protesters it’s unjust that employees at Wal-Mart don’t make a living wage of $15 per hour. She said it’s not that the company can’t afford to pay its workers more; it’s that they simply don’t want to.

“It’s not fair that parents cannot put their children in childcare because places like Wal-Mart refuse to pay them a living wage,” Winch, a childcare provider, said.

Hargrove said the company made a $1 billion commitment to higher wages through multiple increases over the past year. As of April, all employees across the country are paid at least $9 an hour. The rate will rise to $10 per hour in February 2016. Managers in certain departments will receive at least $15 an hour when additional changes go into effect in February, according to Hargrove.

But Hargrove said the answer to better pay doesn’t rest on a minimum wage; instead, it comes through promoting a culture where employees make more money by rising through the ranks.

“It’s not where you start, it’s the opportunity you have. And we offer an opportunity for a career,” he said.

Hartford Wal-Mart cashier Jonathan Rodriguez said he makes $9.15 an hour — though $15 sounds a lot better to him. He’s been with the company for two months.

“Wal-Mart makes enough money to pay their employees,” he said. “Plus, $9.15 is hard to live with in Connecticut.”

A bill to penalize the state’s biggest corporations that don’t pay workers at least $15 an hour failed to come to a vote in the legislature after making it out of the Human Services and Labor and Public Employees Committees.

The effort came on the heels of a law last year to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2017.

This year’s failed legislation would have fined corporations like Wal-Mart $1 per hour for each employee paid $15 per hour or less. The fiscal note estimates that about 146,710 of the 743,328 employees who work for companies with at least 500 employees would be covered under the bill. The measure would result in a revenue gain to the state of up to $152.6 million in 2016 and $305.1 million in future years.

Proponents of the legislation say that because these 146,710 employees are underpaid, they are forced to rely on state programs and subsidies for health insurance and childcare. Since funding for some of those human and social services may still be on the chopping block in the budget that has yet to be finalized, proponents had hoped new revenue from the legislation could help fill the gap.