Walmart last year said it was overhauling its stores to make them operate smoother and create more opportunities for employees to “do meaningful work.” The “Great Workplace” initiative, described by the nation’s largest private employer, said it would be “the key to winning the future of retail.”
Walmart’s new initiative, which includes restructuring the leadership roles at its Supercenters and raising pay for some of its salaried and hourly employees, also eliminated their quarterly bonuses, and now appearing to reduce workers’ hours while increasing workloads despite promises of greater opportunity.
The Guardian spoke with employees who were promised “greater opportunity for associates to lead and take more ownership in the business,” but, they said, none of that came to pass. Instead, some saw their hours reduced, making it more difficult impossible to pay bills and feed their families.
Some staff said the retailer is accelerating internal restructuring plans as some workers have seen their hours “cut horrendously – making it very difficult” to survive on minimum wage.
Noted above, the plan, called the Great Workplace program, was rolled out in 2019 and promoted increased wages for those accepted into new management positions. About 11% of workers, or about 165,000 out of 1.5 million employees, are expected to receive pay increases. As for low-level employees, working on the floor, if that is restocking shelves, directing customers, or unloading delivery trucks, their minimum wage starts around $11 an hour and will remain unchanged.
The Guardian spoke with several former and current employees who confirmed “significant cuts to workers’ hours, pay cuts, and increased workloads.”
Kimberly Patrick Gray, a Walmart associate for four years in Tupelo, Mississippi, said her store saw a consolidation of “three departments into one and then expected all the associates from those areas to fight for hours.”
Gray said her schedule was reduced from around 35 hours a week on average to less than 20 hours this year, forcing her to quit because the reduction in hours made it “very difficult to pay bills.”
A department manager at a store in Arizona, who wanted to remain anonymous, said Walmart’s new restructuring plan slashed pay by at least $2.05 an hour if they were not chosen for a leadership position.
“Those that are not offered a lead position or turn down a team lead over will have till 29 January to find another position,” they said. “Only those department managers that get team lead positions will receive a pay raise. The rest of us will be cut in pay. If I’m lucky I will only lose $2.05 an hour. It is possible that I could lose much more.”
In Oklahoma, a customer service manager with three years at Walmart, said they would have to reapply for a different position if they’re rejected from a team lead position.
“My coworkers and I feel like we are being put against each other with this whole process because we feel like we have to fight for these positions,” they said.
A cashier at a store in California said the restructuring has resulted in extra workloads, including restocking and front end inventory, which would have been done by a manager.
“It’s more work for the same, or less money, unless you are one of the ones who roll into the new positions,” they said. “We are on a skeleton crew and there is zero time when there aren’t sales to ring.”
Former part-time employee Eric Anderson, who worked at a Walmart supercenter in Mulberry, Florida, quit in Oct. 2019 due to restructuring changes:
“The first inklings of trouble came when my produce manager, who had 20 years with Walmart, said he was going to have to reapply for his job. Same with several more longtime employees,” Anderson said.
He said departments were consolidated during the restructuring with no new hires, resulting in existing workers taking on more tasks.
“They all jumped through the hoops to reapply and none of them got to keep their jobs. Most were eligible for a severance for their years of service. At that point Walmart would not tell them when their last day would be, so they couldn’t apply for other jobs because they didn’t know when they could start,” he said. “When I saw how this company treated loyal long time employees, I decided I was done.”
Gary Stevens, a former maintenance supervisor at Walmart in Ticonderoga, New York, for nearly eight years, quit earlier this year as the Great Workplace program reduced his staff by 50%.
“Workloads increased and the management was pushing us to get more done than if I had a full staff. Not one of them knew how to do my job in stripping and waxing floors, but they would tell me how long it should take and yell at me and my crew if we ran behind the time they gave us,” Stevens said.
Walmart also announced the closure of 63 Sam’s Club locations in 2018, resulting in 10,000 layoffs. In 2019, the retailer fired greeter positions at about 1,000 of its retail locations. Corporate jobs have also been axed; last year, it closed a corporate center in Charlotte, North Carolina, laying off 570 workers and outsourcing it to a firm in Arkansas.
While virtue-signaling Walmart promised the world to its low-skill workers, and in some cases, greatly underdelivered, the company’s executives have spent billions of dollars in stock buybacks enriching themselves, shareholders, and fat cats on Wall Street.