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April 14, 2021 4:00 PM, EDT

To Retain Workers, Walmart Moves More of Them Full Time

 Customers wait in line outside a Walmart Supercenter store April 7 in Miami. (Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press)Customers wait in line outside a Walmart Supercenter store April 7 in Miami. (Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press)

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NEW YORK — Walmart is moving more of its workers full time, with the goal of having two-thirds of its U.S. store hourly jobs be full time with more consistent work schedules by early next year.

That’s up from 53% five years ago, the company said.

With this move, announced April 14, the nation’s largest private employer says it will have 740,000 of its 1.2 million U.S. Walmart hourly store workers work full time by Jan. 31. That would mean it will have roughly 110,00 more full-time workers than it did five years ago. Walmart employs roughly 1.5 million workers in the U.S., including those at Sam’s Club, distribution centers and in corporate and managerial jobs.

Drew Holler, Walmart’s senior vice president of U.S. people operations, told the Associated Press April 14 that workers are demanding full-time jobs, which have better health and dental benefits. Holler also noted that full-time work offers the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer a competitive edge as it’s able to retain and attract better employees in a fiercely competitive environment. The moves also come as the exploding pickup and delivery businesses are calling for more full-time jobs with Walmart’s stores operating both as fulfillment centers and retail spaces.

“We know offering more full-time opportunities along with skills training and equipping associates with tools to make work easier will help us continue to attract and retain top talent,” Holler wrote in a corporate blog.

Walmart’s increasing focus on full-time jobs also comes as it’s creating a team-based structure in its stores in which groups of eight to 12 workers work together in an area of a store such as toys or clothing and get cross-trained.

Walmart considers any employee working 34 hours or more full time, although anyone working 30 hours a week or more is eligible for health coverage. With team scheduling, Walmart workers will have consistent 39- to 40-hour schedules, the retailer said.

But Walmart’s strategy also is occurring as the discounter continues to get criticized by labor-backed groups for lagging behind key retailers such as Target, Amazon and Costco in its minimum hourly wages across the board. Costco just raised its minimum hourly wage to $16, while the starting pay at Target and Amazon is $15 per hour. Walmart last raised its entry-level wages for U.S. hourly employees to $11 in early 2018, though it’s been raising starting wages for certain jobs. Holler says Walmart is focusing more on creating clear pathways with better training so workers can move up the ladder.

The approach toward full-time staffing also comes as online behemoth Amazon faced the biggest union push in its history. Walmart Inc. declined to comment on whether its efforts were a way to head off any similar efforts that might arise at the retailer.

Holler said that the full-time staffing approach has been successful in Walmart’s distribution centers and fulfillment centers, where more than 80% of its workers are full-timers.

Mark Mathews, vice president of research development and industry analysis at the National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, say that a decade ago there was a move among retailers toward part-time workers. In fact, 31% of retail and wholesale workers, excluding warehouse workers, were part time in 2010, according to his analysis of government figures.

But in recent years, that number has been declining as the popularity of online shopping has lessened the need to staff workers at odd hours. In 2017, the percentage of part-time workers dropped to 27%, but then rose to 29% last year because of the pandemic.

Walmart Inc. ranks No. 3 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest private carriers in North America.

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