Walmart will begin adding worker hours this year as part of an effort to address complaints about empty shelves at the company’s understaffed stores. The retail giant’s top executives said that fixing the chain’s stocking problems could be worth $3 billion per year, a tacit acknowledgment that Walmart’s notorious efforts to wring productivity out of skeleton crews have hurt its bottom line.
Executives announced “plans to add labor hours as part of an effort to bolster ‘in-store execution’” at the company’s annual Year Beginning Meeting in March, Bloomberg reports. The news service did not offer specifics on how the plan will work, but Walmart has historically preferred scheduling workers for part-time hours to avoid paying them benefits required for full-time hours. Walmart workers around the country have gone on strike repeatedly in recent years, often listing the need for more staff hours among their reasons for protesting.
Regardless of how the company goes about staffing up, the decision to foreground in-store personnel issues at a major annual meeting confirms that Walmart is reconsidering the relationship between its workforce and its profits. Despite opening more than 600 new stores over the past five years, Walmart now employs 20,000 fewer people than it did in 2008. That aggressive decrease in staff eventually left stores unable to do the most basic thing for any retail company: putting merchandise on the shelves.
Stocking problems started to frustrate customers late last year, and Walmart cited concerns about empty shelves when it hired tens of thousands more workers for the holiday season. Months after making that temporary seasonal move, Walmart got downgraded by an investment research firm in a report that said the company’s “relentless focus on costs does seem to have taken some toll on in-store conditions and stock levels.”
Adding staff hours might well calm those kinds of complaints from industry analysts and shareholders, but they are unlikely to put an end to Walmart’s bad press around broader labor issues. Worker unrest has led to dozens of strikes in the last few years, with Walmart employees citing poor treatment from scheduling managers and low wages among their reasons for walking out. In 2013, the National Labor Relations Board found the company guilty of illegal retaliation against workers who expressed interest in forming a union, and the company’s internal guide instructing managers to monitor workers’ private conversations and quell union chatter leaked earlier this year.
If Walmart wants to put an end to its labor unrest, giving workers more hours could be a good start. But the larger issue is wages. OUR Walmart, the group that has helped organized workers in recent years, wants the company to commit to paying its associates a minimum salary of $25,000 per year. Workers today make an average of $8.81 per hour, just three-quarters of the average wage at other retail giants and far below the $21.96 average hourly rate that fellow big-box retailer Costco offers.