Wal-Mart regional VP Andy Wilson (L) giving a pep talk on corporate values at a Wal-Mart store, in 1992
Alan Levenson—;The LIFE Images Collection/Getty
February 20, 2015 11:30 AM EST

These days, Walmart is such a powerful company that this week’s news that it will give employees a raise could potentially change the minimum-wage landscape nationwide.

In 1983, when TIME first profiled the company, many readers might not have even heard of it. Though Wal-Mart was already the ninth-largest retailer in the nation and had raked in $3.4 billion the previous year, it had locations in only 15 states.

And the size of the operation — it now operates in 27 countries — isn’t the only thing that has changed. The news about the Walmart minimum-wage hike has been tied to an ongoing campaign for the rights of workers; like the fast-food industry, the company has acquired a reputation as a place where low-level employees aren’t paid enough. In 1983, however, employee happiness was said to be one of the company’s strengths:

Read the 1983 story, here in the TIME Vault: Small-Town Hit

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Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com.

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