Monday, January 15, 2007

Wal-Mart's Evil Plan to Put Employees on Call

Happiness research shows that it is important for people to have control over their lives, and I spend considerable space in Slow Is Beautiful getting at the true nature of happiness (hint: it's not making more money!).

Yet getting control over your life is not only hard in the corporate consumer culture that uses every waking moment to try to sell you stuff you don't need, now corporations may be robbing you of the very ability to control your existence.

Take this new Wal-Mart idea: Wal-Mart's software allows it to schedule people to work when the crowds are there and cut back when the store is slow. "

But while the new systems are expected to benefit both retailers and customers, some experts say they can saddle workers with unpredictable schedules. In some cases, they may be asked to be "on call" to meet customer surges, or sent home because of a lull, resulting in less pay.

The new systems also alert managers when a worker is approaching full-time status or overtime, which would require higher wages and benefits, so they can scale back that person's schedule.That means workers may not know when or if they will need a babysitter or whether they will work enough hours to pay that month's bills. Rather than work three eight-hour days, someone might now be plugged into six four-hour days, mornings one week and evenings the next.Some analysts say the new systems will result in more irregular part-time work.

"The whole point is workers were a fixed cost, now they're a variable cost. Is it good for workers? Probably not," says Kenneth Dalto, a management consultant in Farmington Hills, Mich. ..."

Another evil idea from Wal-Mart, and guess what: The stock went up!

Full story from the Los Angeles Times:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the largest private U.S. employer, is rolling out software that will allow the company to schedule workers based on the number of customers in stores.

Wal-Mart began testing the software last year and plans to install it in all U.S. stores sometime next year, spokeswoman Sarah Clark said Wednesday. All cashiers and customer service employees already use the system, she said.

The software assigns employees based on customer traffic rather than on a store's sales, as was the case in the past, allowing the company to meet demand at peak times.

Groups such as Wake-Up Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart Watch, which have lobbied the company to raise pay and benefits, have criticized the new method, saying it subjects workers to potentially fewer hours.

"Retailers as a whole are embracing technology," said Rick Rubin, an analyst at Mercantile Bankshares Corp. in Baltimore. "It's probably the right decision from a customer-service standpoint. It may not make employees all that happy."

Clark said enough employees such as senior citizens and students were available to work late and weekend hours.

"The company has not asked any associate to change their availability as a result of this system," she said. About three-quarters of Wal-Mart's 1.3 million U.S. workers are full-time, Clark said.

Robert Angelo, director of the Rutgers Union Leadership Academy, part of the university's School of Management and Labor Relations in New Brunswick, N.J., said he questioned whether Wal-Mart's changes would benefit workers, "given their track record."

"In some cases, flexible hours means less hours," he said.

Improving customer service isn't just about adding workers at busy times, Angelo said. It's also means ensuring that people are working productively.

"This is one piece of a deliberate effort to cut benefit costs through more part-time employees," said Nu Wexler, communications director at Wal-Mart Watch, which is a Washington-based coalition of labor, religious, community and environmental groups. The rollout was previously reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Shares of Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart rose $1.37, or 3%, to $47.55.

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