Walmart Makes Small But Important Change To How It Schedules Workers

CREDIT: Spencer Tirey/AP Images

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon

Last year, Walmart made the surprising move to voluntarily increase the minimum it pays its employees, which just rose to $10 an hour. Now it’s announced that it will make changes that could help make some employees’ lives less chaotic.

Previously, most Walmart stores had an “open shift” system, in which managers scheduled employees within the times they said that they would be available. But by the end of the year, the company says two options will be available, according to the Washington Post. One will be fixed shifts that guarantee the same hours each week for up to a year, a choice that will be offered to those with the longest tenure at the company first and then on a first-come-first-serve basis to everyone else as they open up. The second option will be flex shifts that allow workers to create their own schedules with the hours that are available, planning them out about two and a half weeks in advance. Walmart is working on an app that would allow them to choose their schedules from a smartphone.

The company has already been testing these changes for about two years in two different stores, and those tests have proven that the changes should help the company’s own bottom line: Early results showed an 11 percent drop in absenteeism and a 14 percent drop in turnover. Turnover alone can be incredibly costly. That could be particularly attractive to the company at a time when it has announced a round of store closures.

The changes look like a partial victory for employees who have been organizing for years to demand a number of employment changes at the company, including more full-time work and predictable schedules. Workers have staged multiple strikes over the last few years, for which a number were illegally retaliated against according to the National Labor Relations Board.

OUR Walmart, one faction of the organizing effort, said in a statement about the changes, “For workers who have been speaking out, protesting, and fasting for $15 and full-time hours, today’s announcement represents a hard-won victory, but without increased pay or additional hours, it falls short of what most associates need to support their families, and or what is needed to improve customer service.” That sentiment was echoed by a Walmart employee who is part of the group, Jen Cuffy, who said, “$10 was a step in the right direction. More predictable schedules is a step in the right direction. But it’s still not enough to lift our families out of poverty or allow us to get off food stamps.”

Making Change at Walmart, which split off from OUR Walmart, took a more pessimistic outlook. “The number-one selling item at Walmart stores is broken promises,” said Jess Levin, communications director for the group in a statement. She pointed out that after the pay raises, the company had reportedly cut back on some workers’ hours to reduce costs. “Walmart workers deserve the fair and flexible scheduling for which they have fought. We hope this is a promise the company actually keeps, and we will continue to hold Walmart accountable to make sure they are keeping their word to workers.”

The scheduling changes also fit into a larger trend among large companies, as did Walmart’s voluntary pay raise at the time. A number of companies that were under scrutiny by the attorney general in New York have ended on-call shifts and made other reforms to their scheduling practices, and Starbucks did the same in 2014 after an investigation by the New York Times. Unpredictable or difficult schedules are widespread, particularly in the retail sector, and make it difficult for workers to arrange their lives, especially when it comes to working other jobs or arranging childcare.