(Bloomberg) — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will begin paying all of its U.S. hourly workers at least $9 an hour by April and $10 an hour by next February, striking back at critics who say it underpays employees.

The plan will result in raises for about 500,000 full- and part-time workers in the first half of the current fiscal year, the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company said Thursday in a statement. The retailer also forecast profit for the current year that was less than analysts estimated.

Wal-Mart, the largest private employer in the United States, has long been criticized for its labor practices. Workers have staged protests on Black Friday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year, seeking better working conditions and higher pay. The company also was ridiculed following a report that a store in Canton, Ohio, was holding a food drive that asked employees to donate items to fellow workers.

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