As I See It

Walmart’s attendance policy shows need for a union

By Todd McGivens
July 29, 2019

LOS ANGELES — Workers at Walmart stores across the U.S. were informed by the bosses in February that the company was implementing a new attendance policy. The giant retailer slashed from nine to five the number of days a worker can call off in any six-month period. And any worker who calls off on special days the company designates around holidays now incurs two of the five allowed marks against their record, instead of just one. 

Drew Holler, Walmart vice president for associate experience, told the press that more than 300,000 hourly associates currently have spotless attendance records. “Our associates told us they wanted to be rewarded for their dedication, and we couldn’t agree more,” he claimed. 

I constantly encounter the opposite reaction at the store where I work. The new policy has been met with confusion and anger as the threat of being fired and actual firings based on the onerous new restrictions came rapidly. Company bosses are constantly seeking new ways to get an edge in their cutthroat competition with Amazon and other retailers. They are cutting workers’ weekly hours, and demanding workers be available to come to work whenever Walmart beckons. Company favorites are rewarded with extra hours. This is but one more example of how workers bear the brunt of the profit-driven competition between these giant rivals.

In an attempt to get workers to accept the new policy, the company has assigned us six days of “protected time off” during the year that we can use if we have to take off. 

Instead of increasing our hourly pay — something Walmart workers across the country sorely need — at the end of every quarter the company issues what they call a “MyShare” bonus. This is really a bribe to accept low wages and poor working conditions. The size of this so-called bonus is arbitrary. It is determined based on the “performance” of each particular store. Managers use the promise of a higher bonus to try and get workers to press each other to speed up.

Walmart is using both the carrot and the stick with the bonuses to get workers to toe the line. If you’ve got “perfect” attendance, the company bumps up your bribe by 25%. This is intended to get workers to come to work even if they’re sick, have a personal emergency or whatever. Every absence above 2.5 — half of what you’re allotted — means your bribe goes down. 

Class-conscious workers reject taking the bribe. I contribute whatever “MyShare” check I’m given to the Socialist Workers Party to advance its work building the working-class movement and explain to my co-workers the reason why.

As it stands now, Walmart is an “at will” employer, and can do whatever it wants whenever. If you don’t like it, you can quit, they say.

This attendance policy is just the latest example why workers at Walmart need to organize a union.

A fighting union can prevent the bosses arbitrarily imposing draconian absentee policies, shifting schedules and hours, and playing favorites in the workforce on a profit-driven whim.

Todd McGivens is a Los Angeles area Walmart worker.