NEW YORK (AP) — Wal-Mart, the nation's largest private employer, has launched a new scheduling system in about 650 Neighborhood Market stores that gives hourly workers more certainty about their schedules.
The system was launched in late July and could be eventually rolled out to all 4,600 U.S. Wal-Mart stores, said Mark Ibbotson, Wal-Mart's executive vice president of central operations.
There are about 62,000 hourly workers at the neighborhood stores where the new system is being deployed who now have two scheduling options.
Those choosing fixed shifts are guaranteed the same weekly hours for up to six months. The remainder will stick to the current system of having three weeks advance notice and being able to choose their hours based on what's available. Ibbotson said that he's still not sure what the breakdown will eventually look like.
Wal-Mart said the new software program will better predict staffing needs during peak hours, as well as and where and when to best deploy workers. The goal is to be more transparent when offering employees hours.
The changes come amid pressure from workers at Wal-Mart and elsewhere for more control over their schedules. After Starbucks employees complained about securing enough shifts, CEO Howard Schultz said the company would work to ensure they have enough hours.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., based in Bentonville, Arkansas, has been looking at different ways to give more flexibility to its 1.5 million hourly U.S. workers over the past year and a half. And the new system comes as Wal-Mart has invested $2.7 billion in higher wages and improved training over a two-year period. The plan is part of an overall strategy to boost customer service at the stores and therefore boost sales.
"We are cautiously working through the big change," Ibbotson told The Associated Press on Thursday, referring to the new system. "We are pleased with what we have seen so far."
Ibbotson noted that Wal-Mart is going to monitor the changes through the New Year, looking at such metrics as whether the lines to the cash register have been reduced and whether it has offered the right amount of flexibility to workers.
OUR Wal-Mart, a non-profit worker group, said in a statement that it "does not actually address the number one problem facing workers, lack of hours and for customers, understaffing."