Yesterday, Wal-Mart headquarters issued a press release to “clarify” its new employee scheduling system, which Sprawl-Busters sees as just the enhancement of its capacity to exploit more than a million and a half low-income workers. Wal-Mart defends the new scheduling system — as is does all its actions — by saying that the system will “better serve our customers and associates.” Wal-Mart’s new computer scheduling system basically programs worker hours to rise and fall with customer traffic. That means more workers at peak hours, and sending workers home when the shoppers drop off. The retailer says that workers will still be able to express their “scheduling preferences,” and the system “first attempts to schedule within those preferred hours and then looks to available hours. (Note that Wal-Mart is not saying it meets those preferences — just that workers can “express” them.) The scheduling system will never schedule an associate outside of the hours they told us they are available.” But if workers give the company a narrow range of availability, they may not get hired in the first place, and if they are unwilling to work the graveyard shifts, they may get “coaching.” The release also notes: “Our associates are not required to have ‘open availability’ or be ‘on call.'” Wal-Mart also says that the new system gives preference to full-time workers, leaving part-time workers with the less desirable hours. Critics have said that Wal-Mart’s new ebb-and-flow scheduling throws fixed worker hours into chaos, making it impossible for workers to plan the rest of their life around an unpredictable schedule, and makes a second job in addition to Wal-Mart also impossible. It also means that workers cannot count on a stable number of hours per week, which means an unpredictable weekly and yearly income. “We want our associates to be able to meet the needs of their family, educational needs, or secondary job needs and do what we can to help promote balance in the work place.” Wal-Mart says. “Our main goal is to ensure that we have the correct number of associates in our stores needed to serve the customers shopping which we believe results in better customer service hour by hour.” To dispel any rumors that Wal-Mart workers are disgruntled by the new system, the company notes, “Most of our cashiers love the new scheduling program because it means that there are more registers open when more customers shop our stores, and because their schedules are now more predictable.” Wal-Mart claims that the rise and fall of hours will make worker’s schedules “more consistent week to week because we can more accurately forecast customer traffic hour by hour, thus giving our associates predictability to help plan their lives away from work.” So moving from a set of fixed hours per week, to hours that changes from day to day — is more predicable, says Wal-Mart. Another benefit for Wal-Mart: officials say the new schedule allows managers to set store schedules in only 15 to 30 minutes per week, rather than 8 to 15 hours per week. Now you know why you couldn’t find the store manager when you wanted to complain about the poor customer support at Wal-Mart: The manager was off spending nearly two days per week just making out schedules. Finally, Wal-Mart claims that schedules are made up three weeks in advance. But if customer flow can be predicted three weeks in advance, why can’t it be predicted 8 weeks in advance, and why can’t workers be given schedules for a month or two that don’t rise and fall like a yo-yo? Wal-Mart can’t have it both ways: have a schedule that adjusts flexibly to customer traffic, and that has a fixed predictability for workers.
Sprawl-Busters has written several times about Wal-Mart’s policy of “mid-week payroll adjustments.” Under this plan, a worker can be sent home if customer sales fall at their store. This policy has been going on for years. If the computer in Bentonville showed that customer sales were weak on Monday or Tuesday, the store manager would receive a notice to trim worker hours to maintain a stable ratio between sales and payroll expenses. The mid-week payroll adjustment was just an earlier version of this new plan. Retail analysts defend Wal-Mart by noting that other retailers use the same flexible scheduling software. But Wal-Mart has the largest domestic workforce in America. They are the trend-setter. I recall one Wal-Mart officials comparing worker costs to a “building cost,” like heat, or light. The worker was just another cost center. Last year, when Wal-Mart’s human relations memo on worker policies was leaked to the press, it showed that Wal-Mart was intentionally trying to hire healthier workers to cut down on its health care costs, avoid hiring obese workers, and seeking to trim its rolls of the long-term employee — who produces the same sales level, but costs far more than a new hire with a lower salary rate. This latest “scheduling system” controversy is just another example of how Wal-Mart continues to perfect the fine art of worker exploitation. Their new worker policy is being instituted to save money, not for worker or shopper convenience. It’s just another “building policy”, like pre-programming all store temperatures from Bentonville. This new plan prevents payroll costs from over-heating. And you know Wal-Mart is not happy with the media’s perception of their new plan — otherwise “clarifications” would not be needed.