Walmart raises wages for pharmacists and opticians

This June 25, 2019, file photo shows the entrance to a Walmart in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Walmart, the nation's largest private employer, said Wednesday that it was increasing the wages for its 7,700 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 its than more 3,700 pharmacists to more than $140,000. Walmart declined to share the current salary rate, saying it was based on location and role.

It said 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.

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 Wednesday at the retailer's annual shareholder meeting.

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.