FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Wal-Mart is hoping denim pants will raise the spirits of its more than 1.2 million U.S. store workers.
Starting July 1, workers at the nation's largest private employer will now be able to wear khaki or black denim, in addition to the slacks of the same color allowed before. Workers in more rigorous jobs like unloading merchandise or the garden area will be able to wear T-shirts and blue jeans.
It's among several changes Wal-Mart's U.S. division is making in response to complaints from workers about their jobs, from big issues like the lack of flexibility in scheduling and pay to smaller gripes like the redundant music piped into its stores.
The relaxation follows a dress code mandated last September that included white or navy collared shirts with khakis or black pants and a navy blue vest. Wal-Mart is paying only for the vest, igniting a flurry of complaints from workers.
The new policy doesn't change that. Workers will still have to buy their own shirts and pants.
The latest move was announced at a pep rally for U.S. workers on Wednesday at the University of Arkansas, about a 45-minute drive away from its headquarters in Bentonville, and comes two days before the annual shareholders' meeting.
In a statement, Wal-Mart worker Salomon Fuentes said he continues to stand for "$15 and full time" for workers so that dress code changes aren't a burden.
"My fellow associates and I are more worried about being able to afford clothes at all rather than worrying about what we wear," said Fuentes, a member of OUR Walmart, which has been calling on the company to treat its workers better.
The changes are being spearheaded by Greg Foran, formerly head of Wal-Mart's China business who took the helm of Wal-Mart's U.S. division last August and aim to rev up sluggish sales.
The company, which has been under pressure from labor-backed groups for its treatment of its workers, announced earlier this year that it's increasing the minimum wage for hourly entry-level workers to $10 per hour by next February as part of a $1 billion investment that also includes improved training.
Earlier this week, the company said it was raising starting wages for more than 100,000 U.S. department managers and workers in deli and other specialized departments.
"I love hearing what's working, what's not working," said Foran, who has visited 150 of the 4,500 stores since August. "Our job is to make your life easier."
Wal-Mart is also equipping all its department managers with more advanced mobile devices by October so they will be able to quickly check store inventory.
It's also bringing back music to its stores and will have a DJ based in its corporate marketing department that will pick the music piped to all the stores. Before it was allowing stores to pick their own music, which sometimes led to a single CD being placed on endless repeat.
And to address worker complaints about store temperatures that could be too cold in winter and too hot in summer, it's adjusting the store thermostats — controlled from the corporate headquarters — by one degree Fahrenheit.
The company is also bringing back the slogan "Our people make the difference" on worker name tags.