After two years of protests and walkouts over employment policies that limited workers’ hours and opportunities for professional development, Walmart finally responded with a new program called, “Access to Open Shifts.” After a successful run as a pilot program at its Fort Smith, Arkansas store last year, Access to Open Shifts is now up and running at more than 4,000 US Walmart stores.
The majority of Walmart workers are part-time employees. Walmart’s cap on the number of hours available to its workers meant that if a part-time student worker, for instance, wanted to add hours at the store between semesters or during college breaks, he or she could not. The policy kept large numbers of Walmart employees in the status of “part-time” workers, without the job benefits available to full-time employees.
With Access to Open Shifts, part-time employees will be able to pick up extra hours, even outside the department where they regularly work, and more importantly, extra pay. The ability to work extra shifts in different departments will allow the worker to gain experience throughout the store.
Walmart denies that the Access to Open Shifts program is a response to the protests and strikes, but union officials and long-time employees say that they have been pushing for a very long time to secure access to more hours. Last year, there were several “Black Friday” strikes that were heavily reported in the national media.
Advances in human resource technology is also playing a role. Access to Open Shifts is operating on new scheduling software that enables employees to log on and see what shifts are available in different departments, reserve the shift and if they qualify, show up for work. They no longer have to track down and wait for an in-person meeting with floor managers.
With the average retail employee in the US earning only $10.29 per hour, access to full-time hours is critical. Walmart states that its employees earn $11.83 per hour, yet on a part-time schedule, an employee would be living below the poverty line, unless he is working a second job. Access to Open Shifts will go a long way toward improving the financial health of Walmart employees, as well as increasing job satisfaction and opportunities for advancement.