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Walmart "absolutely" uses managers to do non-managerial work because it doesn't have to pay them overtime, an assistant store manager told Salon's Josh Eidelson. President Barack Obama's plan to expand overtime could be a major change for managers like this and for the hourly workers who might then get more hours if the alternative was paying a manager overtime.
At Walmart now, understaffing and reliance on managers to stock shelves and run cash registers isn't just hurting the workers, this assistant manager said, it's also hurting customers and the store's bottom line:
When I came into the role, I thought it was going to be that I’m going to handle paperwork, be there for the associates, and help them with issues that may arise with them; I’m going to be the guy that they can come to for answers, I’m going to develop leaders …
There’s not enough time in the day to do it … They don’t have enough people to get the job done. And it shows. It shows on the shelves, in terms of the stock. You know, it shows with the morale of the associates. That definitely has issues …
If you look at companies like Wegman’s or Costco, you know, that staff their stores, and they have high payroll percentages, but they’re still [showing] profits, because they’re getting the product on the shelves …
If you have empty shelves, your baskets aren’t as good. What really matters is: How much does that customer buy going through the register? You know, if the customer comes in with a shopping list of 35 items, and you only have 20, you lost a good portion of that sale … to your competitor …
The company made $17 billion in profit last year. They paid the CEO $18 million … There’s no reason why they can’t pay overtime, they can’t give hours back to associates.
Walmart's problems with empty shelves and long lines aren't news; they contributed to one equities research firm's decision to lower Walmart's rating, and have been the source of a lot of customer complaints. And if managers are spending a lot of time trying to make up for understaffing at the shelf-stocking level, they have that much less time for actually, y'know, managing. Which might actually be all to the good considering that a significant part of a Walmart manager's job is looking for warning signs that workers might be pro-union. (Though the assistant manager interviewed by Eidelson expressed some sympathy for workers wanting to organize.)