Wal-Mart is hoping warmer store temperatures, a new soundtrack and a more lenient dress code will raise the spirits of its more than 1.2 million U.S. workers.
Starting July 1, workers at the nation's largest private employer will now be able to wear khaki or black denim, in addition to the slacks of the same color allowed before. Workers in more rigorous jobs like unloading merchandise or the garden area will be able to wear T-shirts and blue jeans.
It's among several changes Wal-Mart's U.S. division is making in response to complaints from workers about their jobs, from big issues like the lack of flexibility in scheduling and pay to smaller gripes like the redundant music piped into its stores.
The relaxation follows a dress code mandated last September that included white or navy collared shirts with khakis or black pants and a navy blue vest. Wal-Mart is paying only for the vest, igniting a flurry of complaints from workers. The new policy doesn't change that. Workers will still have to buy their own shirts and pants.
To address worker complaints about store temperatures that could be too cold in winter and too hot in summer, it's adjusting the store thermostats — controlled from the corporate headquarters — by one degree Fahrenheit. According to the New York Times, temperatures at stores in the East and central regions will rise to 75 degrees from 74. (In stores in the West, average temperatures will fall from 76 to 75.)
Wal-Mart is also changing the music in its stores and will have a DJ based in its corporate marketing department that will pick the music piped to all the stores. Before it was allowing stores to pick their own music, which sometimes led to a single CD being placed on endless repeat.
According to the Washington Post, the CD was a frequent punch line in executives’ presentation to workers, including when a puppet character named Willie joked that being a Wal-Mart worker was getting dangerous. When Mike Moore, executive vice president of supercenters, asked why, Willie replied, “One of my fellow associates recently developed a serious eye-tic from hearing Celine Dion’s greatest hits on loop in our stores.” Justin Bieber was also apparently featured on the CD.
The latest moves were announced at a pep rally for U.S. workers on Wednesday at the University of Arkansas, about a 45-minute drive away from its headquarters in Bentonville, and comes two days before the annual shareholders' meeting.
In a statement, Wal-Mart worker Salomon Fuentes said he continues to stand for "$15 and full time" for workers so that dress code changes aren't a burden. "My fellow associates and I are more worried about being able to afford clothes at all rather than worrying about what we wear," said Fuentes, a member of OUR Walmart, which has been calling on the company to treat its workers better.
The company, which has been under pressure from labor-backed groups for its treatment of its workers, announced earlier this year that it's increasing the minimum wage for hourly entry-level workers to $10 per hour by next February as part of a $1 billion investment that also includes improved training. Earlier this week, the company said it was raising starting wages for more than 100,000 U.S. department managers and workers in deli and other specialized departments.
The company is also bringing back the slogan "Our people make the difference" on worker name tags.