The Charleston Gazette in West Virginia carried a story this week that Wal-Mart workers have been informed that they must be available to work for the retailer at any shift — always. They must work any day they are asked, for any shift, night or day, no matter how long they have worked at the store, no matter what kind of child care support they have, or don’t have. Company officials told the Gazette that this was a policy change at the Nitro, West Virginia store that was needed to keep the store staffed at its busiest hours. “We have many people with set schedules who aren’t here when we need them for our customers,” a Wal-Mart spokesman explained. But some workers believe the new policy is just a way the company can force out higher-paid workers who have been at the company long-term. Workers on regular day shifts now must agree to be available for any shift from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week. If they don’t make this commitment by the end of this week, they’ll be fired. “It shouldn’t cause any problem, if they [store employees] are concerned about their customers,” a Wal-Mart spokesman said. But the Gazette said several single mothers working at the store have no choice now but to quit. “My day care closes at 6 and my baby sitter can’t work past 5,” one mother of two, who has been a cashier for more than three years, told the paper. “I have to be terminated; I don’t know what I’ll do. Wal-Mart is supposed to be a family-oriented company, but kids don’t matter,” the associate added. The “always on call” policy at Wal-Mart is called “open availability,” and requires all floor employees to learn how to run the cash registers. The Nitro store employs 400 people. A Wal-Mart spokesman at headquarters said the open availability policy is found at many other Wal-Mart stores. “This is something that is done throughout Wal-Mart stores,” the spokesman said. “The reality of retail is that our busiest times are evenings and weekends, so it only makes sense that we have higher staffing levels at those times.”
Wal-Mart’s Associates are required to sign an agreement that says, in part, “Due to the nature of our business, associates’ working hours must remain flexible… Schedules will be posted well in advance of the scheduled work week… Most associates will be required to work some nights and some weekend hours… From time to time it may also be necessary to change the associate’s schedules or numbers of hours worked, depending on the store’s business needs at the time.” Wal-Mart workers are “employees at will.” The company can terminate you at any time, but you must be available for work always. Now you know what the word “Always” really means in all those Wal-Mart ads. “Always” means we can always terminate you, and you must always be available to meet the company’s needs. The store comes first — always — and families come a distant second.