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Walmart: A Portrait by the Numbers




Frying Pan News recently reported on the curious circumstance of Walmart obtaining building permits for its planned L.A. Chinatown store the very day before a critical Los Angeles City Council vote against the store. The permits, seemingly issued at the 11th hour, trumped a council measure that would have created big obstacles for the World’s Largest Retailer’s plans in Chinatown.

Community groups have called for additional review of these permits; the appeal will take at least a few months.

So while we await the outcome, break out your calculators or Quicken, and let’s do some math to figure out just what kind of job quality Sam Walton’s multinational corporation will bring to Chinatown.

Let’s go to Walmart’s  Web site and scroll down to its Press Room tab: The average wage for regular, full-time hourly associates in California is purported to be $12.74 per hour. (It varies from state to state.) Work a 52-week year—40 hours a week, no two-week vacation—and you come up with $26,499.20 before deductions.

This is in sharp contrast to Walmart workers citing an average wage of $8.80 per  hour, which is $16,896 per year.

Back to the question, though–how many of Walmart’s employees work full-time, how many part-time?

Frying Pan News point-blanked Steven Restivo, Walmart’s Senior Director of Community Affairs, with this question —What is the percentage of full-time versus part-time workers?

Says Restivo: “The percentages vary state by state. We share the full-time hourly wage rate. We share that information, which is more than any of our competitors share.”

What does that tell us about the number of actual full-time or part-time employees at Walmart? Nada.

ABC News must have had the same frustration—an October, 2011 blog story by the TV news network is titled “Walmart does not disclose the percentage of full-time employees.”

Is it just over half, or just about half? Why won’t Walmart give a direct answer to how many of its associates work full-time?

Maybe it’s because if you are claiming you provide good jobs, you don’t want to disclose how many of your employees have those $26, 499.20 a year jobs.

A dependence on part-timers is built into the Walmart business model, says labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein, whose lively book, The Retail Revolution: How Walmart Created A Brave New World of Business, explores the mega-chain’s history, culture and business methods.

A store manager’s career success is based on minimizing labor costs, Lichtenstein told Frying Pan News in a recent interview. Walmart associates are on 24/7 availability to give the managers more flexibility to bring workers in when they are needed and send them home when the pace slows down.

“You want to have part-time workers who are always hungry for more work,” says Lichtenstein .

A 2006 New York Times story by Steven Greenhouse documents Walmart’s trend toward part-time workers:

“Investment analysts and store managers say Walmart executives have told them the company wants to transform its work force to 40 percent part-time from 20 percent. “

According to Lichtenstein, Walmart managers are always looking for ways to cut hours and get rid of higher-salary workers. The uncertainty of scheduling contributes to that. Creating frustration that leads to turnover is part of the plan. The Retail Revolution quotes a memoir by Michael Bergdahl, who worked as head of the Walmart People Division. (That’s really what it’s called.)

Bergdahl wrote: “It’s hard to believe, but turnover drops millions of dollars to the bottom line in cost savings for the company. When an experienced associate leaves the company, he or she is replaced with an entry-level associate at a lower wage.”

Lichtenstein hammers the final nail into the coffin of  Walmart’s recurring claims that it brings jobs: “You really can’t have a career at Walmart.”

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