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New Wal-Mart scheduling system increases worker exploitation

Stealing for profits

Wal-Mart—the largest private retailer in the United States—is about to completely change the system it uses for scheduling workers’ shifts. Last year, the company implemented the new system for a portion of its workers, including cashiers and office personnel. This year, Wal-Mart will begin using the system for all of its 1.3 million workers.

The system, developed by Kronos Inc., uses data from previous years along with new information on individual store

sales, transactions, units sold and customer traffic to create a "cost-cutting" schedule. Workers will now be asked to work shifts during those times in which potential profits are the highest.

Wal-Mart is not alone in implementing the so-called scheduling optimization system. Payless Shoe Source expects to have this system in 300 of its 4,000 stores by the end of January 2007. RadioShack and Mervyns are also implementing the new system.

Nikki Baird of Forrester Research said, "There's been a new push for labor optimization."

"Labor optimization" is a euphemism for an attack on worker rights. While the implementation of this system is a new tactic in the bosses’ constant drive to increase the exploitation of workers, it is anything but a new push.

The bosses must compete with each other to constantly increase the rate of profit. They consistently work to undermine workers’ job stability, wages and benefits while increasing their workloads.

The scheduling system represents a new, more aggressive tactic. The system will break up what used to be standard shifts into smaller "mini-shifts" spread over a longer period of time.

Tami Orith is a full-time cashier in Ludington, Mich., where the system has already been implemented. Orith earns $9.32 an hour. She used to work a regular 35-hour week with two days off. In May 2006, she began receiving around 12 hours of work each week broken into fluctuating shifts.

The system also alerts the bosses when a worker is approaching full-time status or overtime—which legally requires increased wages and benefits—so the managers can reduce the worker’s hours.

Paul Blank, the campaign director for—a website supported by the United Food and Commercial Workers union—said, "What the computer is trying to optimize is the most number of part-time and least number of full-time workers at the lowest labor costs, with no regard for the effect that it has on workers' lives."

Wal-Mart has perfected the art of denying workers’ their due.

Last November, workers won a case in Pennsylvania courts against Wal-Mart for requiring work off the clock and during breaks. Wal-Mart employees earn 20 percent less than the average retail worker and more than $10,000 less than the average two-person family needs to meet basic needs.

Fewer than half of its employees are on its costly healthcare plan. Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy retail policy director, Tracy Gray-Barkan stated, "In California alone, taxpayers pay $32 million annually in medical care for Wal-Mart employees."

Wal-Mart is a gross violator of workers’ rights. This new schedule optimizing scheme is an extension of its highly anti-worker policies. Although Wal-Mart is not alone in this venture, it is often a bellwether for other big capitalist retailers. Its actions show what is coming for workers in retail and other jobs in the coming months and years.

Wal-Mart is also an example of the criminality of the entire capitalist class. Along with hundreds of other companies like it, Wal-Mart is guilty of stealing millions of dollars in unpaid wages and benefits from workers.

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