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Wal-Mart Tries to Improve Its Battered Image

Customers wait in line to check out at a Walmart store in Panorama City, California
Customers wait in line to check out at a Walmart store in Panorama City, CaliforniaPhotograph by Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Wal-Mart Stores has been very busy during the past couple of days. The world’s largest retailer has made a series of announcements that touch on a few of the most critical issues it faces. Some of the news came from Bill Simon, the head of Walmart U.S., at the annual meeting of the National Retail Federation on Jan. 15. Walmart’s plans sound serious and smart for all kinds of reasons, including in terms of public relations, and suggest the company wants to do better. At the meeting, Simon concluded by saying: “Everything could have just remained the same. Instead, we decided we could move the rock. … We can just decide to do this.”

OUR Walmart, the union-backed group that staged protests in November, is asking for more hours and better pay. Among the group’s complaints is that part-time workers’ schedules change too frequently, making it difficult to hold a second job or go to school or care for families. At the retailers’ meeting, Simon started out by saying, “We’re all tired of retail jobs being put down, as if retail workers can’t judge for themselves what a good job is.” He went on to promise that part-time employees would receive more information about full-time job openings and have the first shot at those jobs, and added: “We will also bring more transparency to our scheduling system so part-time workers can choose more hours for themselves.” In response, a union group called Making Change at Walmart tweeted: “Great news if it’s true!”