updated 1/30/2007 6:51:24 PM ET 2007-01-30T23:51:24

Wal-Mart’s union-backed critics released a company memo Tuesday saying that a new scheduling system could cut hours for individual workers, but Wal-Mart said the document was outdated and the new system is working fine.

WakeUpWalMart.com obtained a 2006 briefing packet for store managers on plans for a new computerized scheduling system aimed at better matching staff levels in Wal-Mart stores to peak crowds of shoppers.

Unions and other critics have said the centralized system, which analyzes an array of data to keep track of customer demand and generates schedules based on that, requires too much flexibility from Wal-Mart’s more than 1.3 million U.S. workers.

The briefing document, released by WakeUpWalMart during an annual meeting of Wal-Mart store managers in Kansas City, instructs managers to tell staff that workers who are unwilling to be available at peak evening and weekend times could wind up with fewer hours or drop to part time from full time.

Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said the document was a briefing paper from a pilot phase of the program last summer.

The new system has since been rolled out to all cashiers and customer service personnel, and experience has shown that employees are not losing hours, Wal-Mart spokeswoman Sarah Clark said.

“Our full-time staff is working pretty much the same days, the same approximate weekly hours, and within one to two hours of the same times as before,” Clark said.

Clark said Wal-Mart employees had shown support for the need to have more staff at peak times to take care of customers.

The pilot phase ended with a decision to allow local store managers to make last-minute changes in schedules based on individual needs, something that was not initially planned, Clark said.

“In fact, we’ve seen such significant improvement in our customer’s perceptions of their checkout experience, and such great acceptance by our associates (employees) to the scheduling program enhancements that we’ve encouraged our managers to continue to do modifications as needed to best meet the needs of their associates and customers,” Clark said.

Chris Kofinis, spokesman for WakeUpWalMart.com, said the briefing document contradicted Wal-Mart’s public statements that the new system would not cut worker hours.

“Wal-Mart has lied to its own workers and the American people because they didn’t want anybody to know the truth about the terrible effect this policy will have on its workers and their families,” Kofinis said.

The new scheduling system requires employees to fill out a form with the hours and days they are willing to work, as well their preferred hours within that range and any regular exceptions such as classes or regular medical appointments.

The briefing packet includes that form, which encourages workers to be as open as possible during peak evening and weekend hours and adds, “Limiting your personal availability may restrict the number of hours you are scheduled.”

In talking points for store managers addressing employees, the document says, “If you have restricted your personal availability to hours that don’t fall within peak customer traffic periods, it is likely that you will see a decrease in your number of scheduled hours on the draft schedules, and that could even impact your Full-Time status.”

The talking points go on to say managers will work with employees in an effort to fix the problem and add that managers should remain involved in finding a solution, such as moving the worker to a different job.

Wal-Mart tested the new scheduling system at a number of stores last year before adopting it for cashiers and customer service employees. It plans to adopt the system for all remaining employees at its U.S. stores this year, Clark said.

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