Walmart Organizers Claim Victory In Little-Heralded Announcement

Walmart was quick to dismiss the Black Friday strikes at their stores as a failure, claiming it had record Black Friday sales regardless. But last week, Walmart's U.S. president and CEO Bill Simon made an announcement that led some Walmart organizers to believe they were finally handed a victory.

At the National Retail Federation's annual convention last week, Simon announced that the store was planning to make it easier for associates to work more hours, if they wanted. That got little coverage in the press, which focused on Walmart's pledge to hire 100,000 veterans and sell more Made in U.S.A. products.

Derrick Plummer, a spokesman for Making Change at Walmart, the campaign to improve conditions at the chain, said the announcement was "no coincidence," following months of campaigning by OUR Walmart, the union-backed advocacy group. In a written statement, Plummer called it "a victory for the nearly half a million Walmart workers who will be affected" and "a key victory for a cause championed from the very beginning of OUR Walmart."

Giving part-timers "first shot" at full-time

One of the most common grievances from Walmart employees has been that they are unable to work the number of hours they would like. Workers like Charlene and Greg Fletcher (pictured above) say they want to work full-time, but Walmart gave them just 32 hours in a good week.

(An employee at Walmart needs to work an average of at least 34 hours a week in order to be eligible for health benefits after 180 days on the job. Part-timers are eligible after a year, and only if they work an average of 30 hours a week.)

More:Walmart Hiring Plan Excludes Nearly 1 Million Unemployed Veterans

Walmart spokesman Kory Lunberg denied that the strikes last November had any role in the decision. "I think our president and CEO Bill Simon said it best," he remarked. "He's tired of retail jobs being put down, and retail workers. It's an opportunity to underscore the importance that associates play at Walmart. One big thing that Walmart offers is opportunity."

At the press conference, Simon said that the policy-change was in response to negative press that retail jobs, and in particular Walmart jobs, had received. He explained that Walmart is making its scheduling more transparent, so that associates could add more hours with greater ease. The world's largest retail chain is also developing a system, Simon added, to alert its associates to full-time openings at their store, or nearby ones, and will be giving those part-time employees the "first shot" at getting those jobs.

More:Walmart Black Friday Strike: Could It Slay The Retail Giant?

"We're all tired of retail jobs being put down, as if retail workers can't judge for themselves what a good job is," Simon declared at the conference. "There are some fundamental misunderstandings about jobs in retail, and we need to do a better job of explaining what opportunities we have to offer."

Walmart spokesman Lunberg couldn't say exactly what this new system of transparency and visibility would look like, however, stating that "we're still putting the final touches on that," but workers would likely see the improvements within six months.

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