Walmart Boosts Starting Hourly Pay to $12 for Some Staff in Test
An employee arranges merchandise at a Walmart Inc. store in Secaucus, New Jersey, U.S. (Photographer: Timothy Fadek/Bloomberg)

Walmart Boosts Starting Hourly Pay to $12 for Some Staff in Test

(Bloomberg) -- Walmart Inc. is testing out a higher minimum starting wage for certain jobs in hundreds of stores as part of a broader overhaul of roles and responsibilities across its massive U.S. workforce.

In the 500 or so stores that have introduced the retailer’s new operating model, dubbed “Great Workplace,” some associates in the fresh, front-end and replenishment areas will see their hourly pay rise from $11 an hour to $12, Walmart spokeswoman Jami Lamontagne said. Those roles, which Walmart has reclassified as “team associates,” include cashiers, shelf stockers and deli workers.

The wage hike is a test, Lamontagne said, and right now the company has no plans to raise its minimum starting wage across the board to its 1.5 million U.S. employees, the biggest private workforce in the nation. The redefined roles carry more responsibility, Walmart has said, which justifies the higher compensation. Still, the move could be Walmart’s first step toward boosting its starting pay, which it last raised in 2018.

“We are really excited about our test that further empowers our associates to take care of customers,” Drew Holler, senior vice president of U.S. People and Associate Experience, said by email. “Finding new ways to pay and recognize our associates has been part of tests and this is the next step.”

Activist Criticism

After weathering years of criticism from labor activists, Walmart has made a slew of improvements to its wages and benefits in recent years. Since 2015 it has lifted starting pay three times, instituted a more generous parental-leave policy, offered college tuition for $1 a day and even relaxed its dress code to let workers wear jeans. On Thursday, Walmart and Tivity Health rolled out a program that lets employees use 9,000 fitness centers nationwide for as little as $9 per paycheck.

At the same time, though, Walmart has closed stores, laid off employees and introduced robots to automate tasks like cleaning floors, sorting products off trucks and checking for out-of-stock items, which has unnerved some employees. Even the pay raises have led to grumbling from some associates, who complained that new hires would get paid as much as some current workers.

Walmart’s starting wages can vary based on state and local laws, such as in California where the minimum is now $13 an hour for companies with 26 or more employees, but on a nationwide basis they trail industry rivals like Target Corp. and Costco Wholesale Corp.

Minimum Wage

In June, Walmart Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon urged Congress to boost the federal minimum wage of $7.25. McMillon is now chairman of the Business Roundtable, which represents some 200 CEOs at companies including AT&T Inc. and General Motors Co., so Walmart will likely play a more visible role on various workplace policy issues in Washington.

Walmart’s Great Workplace program, introduced last year and rolling out in stages, includes more training and support for lower-level workers, who in turn will shoulder more responsibility. The changes will do away with longtime roles like assistant manager and customer-service manager, replacing them with positions including academy trainer, team lead, coach, and store lead.

Academy trainers, for example, will work to “upskill” employees and make sure they “understand the correct way to perform their jobs,” according to internal documents viewed by Bloomberg.

“Our associates are enjoying learning new skills and working on small teams within their store,” Holler said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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