The right wing is yelling louder and louder about how ObamaCare is gonna cost jobs. We hear reports, here and there, of companies knocking employees back to part-time to avoid the crushing cost of providing health benefits.
Except maybe not. Days ahead of the new health care exchanges, a week ahead of the Tea Party rendez-vous with destiny in the form of government shut-down in opposition to ObamaCare, WalMart has announced it's converting 35,000 part-time employees back to full-time. The reason is simple: Business. Profit. The Walton family didn't get filthy rich because of ideological purity; they got there by relentlessly pursuing profit. From Forbes:
Wal-Mart’s unwillingness to pay most of their workers a livable wage, while avoiding enough full-time employees to properly run a retail outlet, has led to the company placing dead last among department and discount stores in the most recent American Customer Satisfaction Index—a position that should now be all too familiar to the nation’s largest retailer given that Wal-Mart has either held or shared the bottom spot on the index for six years running.Lately, they've been noticing a dent in their profits. WalMart has undoubtedly noticed that CostCo and Home Depot have been doing OK while treating their employees better.
So, where is all that product that once filled Wal-Mart shelves?
Oh, the goods are in the store—either in the back room or in the unopened boxes lining the aisles as they await the availability of a store clerk to get to the rather critical job of moving the merchandise from the box to the shelf where a customer can actually purchase it. But when there are insufficient numbers of store clerks available—due to Wal-Mart’s commitment to using temporary workers or busting its full-time employees down to part-time so as to avoid worker benefit—the products Wal-Mart sells stay off the shelves and unavailable for customers to purchase.
Bloomberg reported from New Jersey recently:
Three days earlier, about 10 people waited in a customer service line at a Wal-Mart in Secaucus, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from New York, the nation’s largest city. Twelve of 30 registers were open and the lines were about five deep. There were empty spaces on shelves large enough for a grown man to lie down, and a woman wandered around vainly seeking a frying pan.I shop at WalMart only rarely, and that's not likely to change. Beyond those of us who already don't shop there, they're losing customers for the simplest of reasons: They can't find what they're looking for. Buying something requiring semi-skilled assistance like house paint can be damned near hopeless.
It’s not as though the merchandise isn’t there. It’s piling up in aisles and in the back of stores because Wal-Mart doesn’t have enough bodies to restock the shelves, according to interviews with store workers. In the past five years, the world’s largest retailer added 455 U.S. Wal-Mart stores, a 13 percent increase, according to filings and the company’s website. In the same period, its total U.S. workforce, which includes Sam’s Club employees, dropped by about 20,000, or 1.4 percent. Wal-Mart employs about 1.4 million U.S. workers.
WalMart has begun to receive the only message that they'd ever be likely to listen to. They've been hit in the pocketbook. Profits are sagging, and not just because of the general decline of the economy. They're losing customers to Target, Home Depot, CostCo and the like. WalMart isn't likely to be a wonderful place to work any time soon. But it's still gratifying to see a crack in their facade.
They're making a concession. Particularly just ahead of the health exchanges opening and the threatened Republican shut-down of the government, it's a welcome countercurrent. If only the House Republicans could find a similar dose of reality to drive their decision-making. Maybe that's too much to hope for from the segment of the population that believes fervently that we are currently in the End Times. But for the rest of us, this is a small glimmer of hope. A little soupçon of rationality.