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Wal-Mart to schedule workers based on traffic

NEW YORK -- 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 have it installed in all U S stores sometime next year, spokeswoman Sarah Clark said yesterday. 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.

"It's probably the right decision from a customer-service standpoint," said Rick Rubin, an analyst at Mercantile Bankshares Corp. in Baltimore, with $22 billion in assets including Wal-Mart shares. " 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.

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.

"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, a Washington-based coalition of labor, religious, community, and environmental groups.

Flexible scheduling could hurt workers, Representative Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, said in a speech yesterday at the National Press Club in Washington.

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