Wal Mart and Sheetz both investing money to increase workers' wages, a growing trend among national corporations.

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While state and federal legislators debate back and forth over raising minimum wage, companies continue taking matters into the own hands.

Walmart, which operates seven stores, including one Sam's Club, in York County, will be implementing one of the largest single-day, private-sector pay increases ever on Feb. 20, according to a company press release.

As part of its two-year, $2.7 billion investment, Walmart U.S. will increase wages for more than 1.2 million employees. Wage increases include: all associates hired before Jan. 1, 2016, will earn at least $10/hour, associates already earning $10/hour will receive annual pay increases early, and associates at their pay band max will receive a lump sum payment equal to 2 percent of their annual pay.

Walmart's average full-time hourly wage will be $13.38/hour, while its average part-time hourly wage will be $10.58/hour, according to the release.

B.J. Crawford, the longtime manager of the Walmart Supercenter in Springettsbury Township, said he had to reread the release a few times to understand the scope of the announcement.

"$2.7 billion doesn't sink in right away," he said. "I was proud to be the messenger (to my employees)."

Lower Windsor Township resident Renee Smith, a single mom who serves as the store's personnel manager, remembers the company increasing wages once before, while she was pregnant with her daughter.

"There's been a definite boost in morale (since the announcement)," Smith said. "Any wage increase is a plus. It might help (an employee) purchase a home or car or get an education for themselves or their children."

Mandy Arnold, president of York-based Gavin Advertising, said companies such as Walmart have sacrificed brand loyalty for profit for a long time, and it has caught up with them, resulting in these wage increases.

"Brands are succeeding at different price points, and consumers are demanding more than just low prices now," Arnold said. "One of those demands is a trustworthy company that treats its employees well."

This most recent announcement is a step in the right direction, Arnold said, but Walmart has based its whole retail model on low prices, and the company will likely look to place a larger emphasis in online sales over the coming years.

Claims associate Tiffany Wykle, a single mom from Felton, said employees still aren't completely sure how the announcement will affect them. Regardless, the fifth-year employee who started as a part-time cashier said she'd stay with the company because of the flexible hours and opportunity for growth.

York City's Irene Taylor, a part-time cashier/stocker, said she felt the wage increase shows that Walmart is interested in treating its employees fairly and retaining skilled workers.

"They've had problems with people leaving if someone gives them a better offer," said Taylor, who used to be a full-time employee.

Smith said she's seen more applicants show interest in full-time positions since the announcement.

"There's always going to be those people that come in during holidays to work part-time, but this (wage increase) helps drive awareness of some of the benefits of working full-time here," Smith said.

Walmart also announced additional benefits, including easier-to-use paid time off (PTO) policies and short-term disability plans.

Congress has debated raising the federal minimum wage in recent years, and the issue has been front and center in the ongoing Democratic presidential primary race. In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed raising the state minimum wage, and last month he told The (Allentown) Morning Call he would continue to push for the wage hike in 2016.

Walmart isn't the only company taking the matter into its own hands.

Altoona-based Sheetz, Inc., also recently announced a $15 million investment to raise its employees' wages, according to a company press release.

Other major companies that have raised their internal minimum wage above the federally imposed $7.25/hour figure include McDonald's, Target and Starbucks, according to Associated Press reports.

"When a trend occurs, it's typically because there's a tipping point with regards to expectation from consumers," Arnold said. "There's a big difference in being reactive and proactive, and being seen as (a company) who cares for its employees."

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com.

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