Wal-Mart is learning from its labor woes

Even critics say strikes and protests are transforming the company for the better.

By Jason Notte Jun 7, 2013 3:19PM
Wal-Mart store in Secaucus, New Jersey / Jin Lee/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesSo maybe folks are still down on Wal-Mart's (WMTscant pay and benefits, its stance on working conditions in Bangladesh and its value compared with Costco's (COST). But even the megastore's foes say the pressure on Wal-Mart is doing wonders for it.

Union-backed Our Wal-Mart spent Friday protesting the company's annual meeting after a year of battling the chain on labor laws and being sued by the superstore for disrupting business. Still, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union tells The Huffington Post that the pressure from labor groups has led to visible changes within the company.

While the union rattles off anecdotal victories -- wages raised, firings undone -- it points to the strikes held during Black Friday last year as its biggest triumph. With workers frustrated by the company's decision to extend its Black Friday sales into the Thanksgiving holiday, Our Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart employees held a series of strikes that not only rattled Wal-Mart but inspired lawsuits against Our Wal-Mart for its "disruptive tactics."

It also led the company to adopt a pilot program created by workers who petitioned management at their Maryland store to let workers request vacant shifts in other sections of their stores. Wal-Mart may have forced itself into that position by shrinking its staff from more than 338 workers per store to 281 since 2007, according to a report from The New York Times. That led to bare shelves waiting to be restocked, snaking checkout lines in desperate need of cashiers, and hordes of angry customers taking their business elsewhere.

"Every time something happens to Wal-Mart, that's a win for Costco. That's a win for Kroger (KR)," Burt Flickinger, the managing director of the consulting company Strategic Resource Group, told The Huffington Post. That leaves Wal-Mart little choice but to work with its employees, who also have few other options.

Nationwide, 4.3 million Americans work as retail salespeople, giving them America's most common job, just ahead of the 3.3 million cashiers who work beside them, and earning them an average of $25,000 a year -- or well less than the nearly $46,000 annual mean wage.

Wal-Mart employs a whopping 1.5 million members of that labor pool. With Our Wal-Mart and others increasingly making Wal-Mart workers aware of their rights and organizing them to fight for better wages and hours, Wal-Mart suddenly finds itself in the same position as some of its competitors.

If Costco can offer low prices while giving the Teamsters a three-year contract, maybe an evolving Wal-Mart can make peace with its disgruntled employees before they decide to unionize.

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Jun 7, 2013 3:58PM

you want to fix America - stop shopping at wal mart


I built that on cheap labor

Jun 7, 2013 5:06PM

I managed the meat department for a  Wal-Mart that did $18,000,000 a year in sales in the meat department alone.......I never broke $10 an hour and finally quit.

Jun 7, 2013 4:07PM
The only complaint I have about Wal-Mart is they never have enough checkers.
Jun 7, 2013 4:32PM

I don't shop at sweatshops R Us. I haven't set foot in one for about twenty years. They've been sued more for labor violations than any other big outfit I can think of, while the Walton family swims in money.

Jun 7, 2013 4:11PM
fuc* walmart!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Jun 7, 2013 6:43PM
Wal-Mart will not take a stand for anything. Kroger took a stand on Pink Slime, and said no way. Where was Walmart? Sam Walton made, "Made in the USA" profitable, but after that, the family took it for lowest cost, for highest profit.
I've said it many a time, The only thing I want from any Company, is a good product, at a good price, and stay the hell out of politics, or anything else.
When a person works 40 hours a week, and still needs government assistance, that tells me all I need to know about what a company thinks of their workers.
Jun 7, 2013 3:48PM
Welcome to walmart......get your **** and get out....
Jun 7, 2013 6:14PM
I find it interesting that people can't live on the low wages that Wal-mart pays BUTT millions of illegal workers are flocking to the US to work for less. In Russia the leaders of the Labor Party came up with strikes and violence to force the government to recognize their new Unions and form a new form of government. Lenin and Trotsky called it Communism and we all know how that worked out for Russia.
Jun 7, 2013 6:40PM

most wal mart employees collect food stamps, cuz wal mart don't pay s**t. your taxes subsidize wal mart.


phuck wal mart


you are welcome sam!

Jun 7, 2013 6:07PM
they screen and test possible hires like they are some high paying corporation when in reality they pay **** wage and expect professional "associates".....  give me a break...if an error is made there is "coaching" and then "written up"  .. be real....the bottom line is all that is considered as they have bonuses for the managers.......  hey, you are only as good as the people you have working for you.....  take care of them!!!  the public gladly pay alittle more for happier customer service and making a difference in families of associates lives!
Jun 7, 2013 6:23PM
I'd like to know where I can get a retail job for $25,000 a year. Every retail job I've ever had in 4 different states paid just above minimum wage, even after being there for 3 years. The most I ever made - after adjusting for inflation - was $17,800 a year.
Jun 7, 2013 7:29PM
Kind of funny how, usually, Americas are so against unions, unless it's against Walmart...
Jun 7, 2013 8:44PM
Put America to work. Buy american products
Jun 7, 2013 5:59PM
you just know there's something wrong with a store when they allow big ugly customers to wonder around in their pajamas. Don't get more welfare, or gettho than that! just saying.
Jun 7, 2013 7:56PM
I work for Wal-Mart, it's a crap job the way they treat and pay their employees.  Never have I worked for a company that does more to demotivate their people....they have timed task sessions that the overnight people have to run over to the computer and slide their badge thru to task in or out of when their name is called over head (which is constantly) whether they have finished or not , and then they are held accountable when a task is unfinished.  They tell them repeatedly that everything must go out, nothing is to go back to the stockroom, but not to overstock.  There is NEVER enough employees scheduled in most depts, so they move people from other areas that were lucky enough to have a full skelton crew to work in another dept but still expects the dept robbed of their people to have everything done.  They have frequent visits from Market managers who follow the Wal-Mart policy of criticism to the point of Department managers being in tears when they leave.  One someone is hired by Wal-mart. it's like they are afraid to get rid of the bums and lazy people, there are people who have been there 10 or more years and do as little as possible knowing they will still get a check which cause those who work hard and take pride in their work  to work twice as hard, get burned out and leave.  There is a constant turnover.  If you want to make minimum wage be critized, micromanaged, rarely hear positive reinforcement and get stressed everyday out come to Wal-Mart they are always hiring.    
Jun 7, 2013 7:36PM
I don't want some idiot union steward talking for me, while he/she does nothing but sit on their asses.We have too may people saying "that's not my job",..what if you didn't have a job. Think about that ya lazy ****. That's why America is in the mess it's in........
Jun 7, 2013 7:41PM
Everyone whines about Walmart. Maybe you would like them to all go out of business. No sweat off my ****, but the folks who work there might not care for the idea.
Jun 7, 2013 7:54PM
I'd love to shop at Publix or elsewhere but simply can't afford to. Walmart's prices are definitely cheaper but there stores look like sh*t!  I'm getting more and more pissed off wanting the same items that I usually purchase and seeing empty shelves... Everywhere you go, it's the same empty, messy shelves.. None of the employees seem to give a damn and this certainly seems to reflect on the obvious, poor management. Despite what Walmart pays their employees, these people wouldn't do sh*t no matter what they're payed... Messy, rude, lazy slobs sitting around talking to each other while ignoring customers.. I see it all of the time. In this day and age, I don't give a damn how much the pay is.. I would simply care about just being able to say that I have a job to go to five days a week instead of waiting for my welfare to run out.... People in this country are extremely spoiled and always want more and more! It's about time they start appreciating what they have got instead of what they don't!
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