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4/17/2007
10:47 AM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
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More Opinions On Wal-Mart's Flexible Scheduling

Several letters arrived in response to my initial story, "Wal-Mart's Latest 'Orwellian' Technology Move: Get Over It," before I posted a blog where those who are interested could comment. Read what some of the initial letter writers had to say, and join in the discussion.

Several letters arrived in response to my initial story, "Wal-Mart's Latest 'Orwellian' Technology Move: Get Over It," before I posted a blog where those who are interested could comment. Read what some of the initial letter writers had to say, and join in the discussion.Wal-Mart's Cost-Avoidance Plan I know you work in the technology field and might be "sensitive" to things that seem to be against technology. I also realize that your market is probably more focused on the technical aspects of stories. But to take away from the Wal-Mart story an anti-computer rant is to completely miss the forest for the trees. In all I've read about their plans, it is a cost-avoidance plan. The technology to implement it is secondary. The objections come not from the "computer" usage, but from the avoidance of providing benefits to part-time workers. I know that tech mags are notorious for having no time for social issues, but it is more that than a tech issue. Being against chemical warfare doesn't mean being against the chemical industry. And being unhappy about the damage Wal-Mart causes in communities and wanting it to change isn't anti-capitalist, any more than being against child or slave or prisoner labor is.

Jay Rice Analyst Clarkston, Ga.

Burdening Already Complex Lives As a former IT worker in the finance industry, my hours were rarely predictable. I stayed late, shifted to an earlier start on a few hours' notice, and worked weekends, both predictably and unpredictably. My spouse, a self-employed attorney, has it even worse and probably could work 24-by-7 some weeks. I avoid stores that have huge lines or useless help. The idea that a country like Germany or Switzerland has (or at least had) limited shopping hours amazes me. I want my convenience -- 24 hour supermarkets are wonderful. What bothers me about the Wal-Mart story is that many of the workers are on the low end of the pay scale. They may rely on public transportation to get to work. They may have stitched together rides to work and child care based on a predictable schedule. I listen to other people's stories and I cannot imagine how they keep it together. My vision (which may have no basis in fact) is that Wal-Mart is adding another burden to already complex and underfunded lives. If workers leave because of this, or don't arrive on time, will that help Wal-Mart any? Will it improve customer service? In theory, I agree that Wal-Mart and Target and whoever else are trying to run their businesses efficiently. But if I go into a store and no cashiers managed to make it to work, I won't go back any time soon.

Noreen M. Postman Hasbrouck Heights, N.J.

Surviving The New Global Economy Can I ask just what on earth you were thinking when you wrote:

"It's time to gird your constitutional loins because today's global economy makes it impossible for businesses to muddle along unproductively and even unprofitably just to suit the schedules or preferences of employees.

If this country wants to remain competitive in the years to come, then this 'evil' approach to delivering greater customer value had better become commonplace in very short order."

Just where do you draw the line? So doing business the old-fashioned way was just not profitable, huh? This reads like the ranting of some extremist, not a journalist. For example, can we infer from your statements that the families of murdered trade unionists in Colombia need to "get over it" and realize times are tough and corporations just have to do whatever it takes to "survive" this "new global economy."

Paul Paz y Miño Oakland, Calif.

Not Sam Walton's Wal-Mart Maybe you should stick to writing about technology and leave the business reporting to those who know, or at least can understand the implications of, moves like Wal-Mart's recent change to a computerized scheduling system. Wal-Mart already employs more part-time employees than any company in America, and with the low wages paid by the company, a lot of their employees are forced to take second jobs to make ends meet. With Wal-Mart's new "inflexible" scheduling, it makes it harder on the members of working families to work a second (or third job) when they're not sure when they'll have to work at Wal-Mart. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that this is bad for Wal-Mart's employees and, in the long run, for the company itself when employees have to leave to find stable employment. You don't have to be "anti-business" or "anti-capitalist" to recognize that the Wal-Mart of today is a long way from that of Sam Walton's day, and that many of the company's practices have been harmful to the communities in which they place stores and for the industries that they buy from. Wal-Mart's demand of Chinese-made products has tipped the balance of trade precariously in favor of China, and the company's predatory pricing and business practices have helped bankrupt or cripple once-robust companies (Remington being the most recent). As goes Wal-Mart, so goes the rest of the country. It's not asking too much to make sure that the company does right by its employees, its customers and the communities in which it locates.

Rev. Keith A. Gordon Owner Conspiracy M.E.D.I.A. Batavia N.Y.

Trying To Save Wal-Mart From Itself My name is Jonathan Rees, and I am the author of the essay, "Why Wal-Mart's New Computerized Scheduling Is Evil (Part 3)" (not to mention parts 1 and 2), which you cite in your April 6, 2007, InformationWeek column, "Wal-Mart's Latest 'Orwellian' Technology Move: Get Over It." The first thing I want to do is thank you for demonstrating just how far-reaching this kind of technology has become and will become in the future. As you explained in your column:

The software vendor Wal-Mart's using, Kronos, has lots of other customers, including a global deal with Ikea (6,200 employees), Finish Line (13,000 employees), Fossil (4,000 employees), New Look (11,000), and many, many others. Plus, it was just acquired by a private-equity firm for $1.8 billion, or $55 per share, and the new owner has major expansion plans for Kronos.
Obviously, our point of contention boils down to whether or not I should just "get over it." Certainly, it's much easier for me to "get over" the idea of companies like Ikea using such software. For one thing, they have already signed an international agreement recognizing workers' right to organize. Wal-Mart, on the other hand, is not only a notorious union-buster, but pays its workers such poor wages (compounded by such few hours -- that will be important later on) that they regularly show up on lists compiled by states of which employers have the most employees using Medicaid. Furthermore, as far as I know, none of the employers you mention in your column operate 24 hours a day. This makes the potential for disruption of employees lives' much greater, even than at a similar company like Target, which doesn't have nearly as many 24-hour supercenters. But is this really evil? To me at least, dehumanization is inherently evil. According to the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914, "The labor of a human being is not a commodity or article of commerce." This does not mean that there is no market for labor; that would be the wage labor market. What it means, if it isn't obvious already, is that the work of human beings is substantially different from that of a particular object that can be bought and sold. Human beings have families who they like to see regularly. Objects don't. Human beings get sick. Objects don't. Human beings can feel pain and fatigue. Objects can't. It's all well and good for you to be telling me to get over Wal-Mart's new computerized scheduling system. That should be easy for me because, luckily, I don't work for Wal-Mart. However, other human beings do, and I care about them. In your column you repeatedly point to concerns over this software as political. If that means I care about people more than profits, I plead guilty. The funny thing is, though, that listening to people like me might actually help Wal-Mart become a more profitable company. Because of this system, Wal-Mart employees are being torn away from their families or their second-paying jobs because if they don't offer more open hours, they won't get as many back. [That was the theme of my series, if you actually read the whole thing.] This hurts morale. Wal-Mart ought to care about employee morale. Unhappy, underpaid employees give are not productive. They give terrible customers service. Sure, some of them are going to quit, but how much does Wal-Mart's massive turnover rate cost the company in training time each year? You tell your readers that me and people who share my position are "anti-capitalists." I beg to differ. Even globalization guru extraordinaire Tom Friedman writes in The World Is Flat:
"But even as a free trader, I am worried about the challenge this will pose to wages and benefits of certain workers in the United States, at least in the short run."
He wrote this about competition with China, but he might as well have been talking about the effects of global competition on workers in general. If you treat workers as an interchangeable commodity rather than people, they get very angry. They might express that anger at the ballot box to induce protectionism, which is Friedman's worry, or they might just take their anger out on their employer. People like you, Mr. Evans, will then undoubtedly blame the workers for whatever outlet they choose for their anger, but some of us are still trying to save Wal-Mart from itself. If you followed their press clips lately, like we do at The Writing On The Wal, you'd know they need all the help they can get in that department.

Jonathan Rees Associate Professor of History Colorado State University - Pueblo Pueblo, Colo.

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