Monday, October 02, 2006

First you get a monopoly, then you put the screws to 'em

Happens just as much in the job market as any other. Just ask Wal-Mart, who are now apparently putting the screws to their workforce.

Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer, is pushing to create a cheaper, more flexible work force by capping wages, using more part-time workers and scheduling more workers on nights and weekends.

Wal-Mart executives say they have embraced new policies for a large number of their 1.3 million workers to better serve their customers, especially at busy shopping times — and point out that competitors like Sears and Target have made some of these moves, too.

But some Wal-Mart workers say the changes are further reducing their already modest incomes and putting a serious strain on their child-rearing and personal lives. Current and former Wal-Mart workers say some managers have insisted that they make themselves available around the clock, and assert that the company is making changes with an eye to forcing out longtime higher-wage workers to make way for lower-wage part-time employees.

Investment analysts and store managers say Wal-Mart executives have told them the company wants to transform its work force to 40 percent part-time from 20 percent. Wal-Mart denies it has a goal of 40 percent part-time workers, although company officials say that part-timers now make up 25 percent to 30 percent of workers, up from 20 percent last October.
They do, of course, claim that investment analysts and the like are strongly encouraging them to do so. That make be true, but they're Wal-Mart- they aren't in the same position is many (or any) of their competitors. They're often an important if not vital source of jobs in many communities, making things like this unacceptable:

In the confidential memo sent to Wal-Mart’s board last year, M. Susan Chambers, who was recently promoted to be Wal-Mart’s executive vice president in charge of human resources, questioned whether it was cost-efficient to employ longtime workers. “Given the impact of tenure on wages and benefits,” she wrote, “the cost of an associate with 7 years of tenure is almost 55 percent more than the cost of an associate with 1 year of tenure, yet there is no difference in his or her productivity.”

The memo said, “the shift to more part-time associates will lower Wal-Mart’s health-care enrollment” even though Wal-Mart was reducing the amount of time to one year, from two, that part-time workers would have to wait to qualify for health insurance.

Workers say there is some evidence that the goals outlined in Ms. Chambers’ memo are being put into practice. At several stores in Florida, employees said, managers have suddenly barred older employees with back or leg problems from sitting on stools after using them for years while working as cashiers, store greeters or fitting-room attendants. Wal-Mart said it had no companywide policy on stool use and did not have enough information to comment.
Of course, that last bit about taking away stools for people with back or leg problems is downright evil. The sentiment of "kick out the people who've been here long enough to get benefits" isn't much better, though- I've seen what it does to other retail operations, and it ain't pretty. Wal-Mart makes their margin from the fact that they don't play by the same rules as everybody else- they're too big to work like an ordinary retailer. Where they go, the country follows.

If this takes place, the labourers of the country are going to become a very restive bunch indeed.

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