By Greg Petro
February 21, 2020
With unemployment at record lows, the retail industry is facing a talent shortage. And the persistent perception that retail is a “lousy job” based on the physicality of moving and standing for long periods, unpredictable hours, often lower pay, and lately, worker safety (both behind the scenes as well as front of the house) is pitting Walmart against Amazon once again, this time in the race for talent.
First, the elephant in the room — minimum wage increases. Last year, Amazon announced it would increase minimum wage to $15 for all U.S. employees. While the news drew headlines, particularly as Bezos challenged others in the industry to do the same, it similarly drew criticism by employees. Amazon also announced it would be eliminating bonuses, which often added 8 percent a month to many employees’ earnings according to this Washington Post story. One full-time worker in the piece noted, “To me it seems like a publicity stunt on Bezos’ part. The big headline sounds nice, until you realize we are losing significant benefits.” Interestingly, the worker spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution, as the company continues to maintain its image of firing people for speaking out against the company.
While Walmart has not taken Bezos’ bait and matched Amazon’s minimum wage hike, it did recently announce a more measured approach to wage increases through an initiative it calls “Great Workplace.” The idea is to empower employees by offering them more opportunities to be cross-trained in several functions to advance into a higher pay scale. The program, which is currently being tested in 500 stores, introduces two new roles with a higher starting salary than Walmart’s standard $11 an hour. The team associate role starts at $12 an hour, and team leads start at $18 an hour. According to the company, the strategy is meant to enable employees to develop broader retail expertise and in doing so, “have wider paths for advancement than if they had a narrower focus and skillset.”