Walmart is the American economy’s Invisible Hand, and it giveth and taketh away. So just months after announcing grand plans to give workers raises and better schedules, the mega-retailer appears to be rolling back its generosity, hour by hour.
Bloomberg News reports that at various stores workers have seen systematic cutbacks to their schedules, including reducing shifts store-wide and forcing workers to take longer breaks.
Here’s what happens when the rollbacks come to a Walmart near you: Barbara Gertz, who works overnight stocking shelves at an Aurora store, has seen the workforce thinning out for her coworkers with systematic cutbacks to their schedules, which seem aimed at offsetting the extra wages they recently earned during seasonal extra shifts.
“They’re punishing people for helping them during an important period,” Gertz says. Many were part-timers who had been nearing a full workweek; “Now these guys are getting like 24 hours, 16 hours, no notice at all. It’s just horrible, I mean they can’t live like that.”
Not that things were great before. Walmart, like many other retailers, relies on a “just in time” scheduling system designed to nimbly follow market fluctuations and logistical flows. This saddles workers with erratic schedules and unstable income, while exacerbating gender and race divides in the retail industry.
But social concerns dwarf the top priority at Walmart: the move seems to be a reaction to various business factors: intensifying retail competition, slipping quarterly earnings and market volatility. But a spokesperson assured Bloomberg, “The reductions won’t affect efforts to better staff stores, shorten checkout lines, and improve cleanliness and stocking.” Walmart has also claimed that stores were reducing hours because they were “overscheduled,” as if workers’ low-paid labor were a mere financial redundancy. (Walmart did not return The Nation‘s inquiry.)
Gertz herself has just returned from medical leave and hasn’t seen major schedule changes yet. But she says she also hasn’t seen the positive changes that Walmart promised in February: a raise in the base wage to $9 and then $10 an hour by next year, as well as more stable shifts. Walmart announced plans to reform the scheduling system to offer associates “more control over and ownership of their schedules,” with more than two weeks advanced notice. After more than six years of working at Walmart, Gertz still only makes $11.30 an hour. She’s also noticed a convoluted new formula for calculating annual raises, which uses a percentage of her base pay instead of the usual addition of a few cents an hour, appears to be whittling down her total income.