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USA Today reports that management at a Wal-Mart in Nitro, West Virginia, has informed employees there that they must be prepared to work any shift at any time – or they will be fired. The some 400 employees who work there have until Friday to make a commitment to total, unquestioning availability, or they will be let go.

The policy was put into place, store manager John Knuckles tells USA Today, because he needs to be sure that there is enough staff to take care of the customers. “We have many people with set schedules who aren't here when we need them for our customers," he says. "It is to take care of the customers, that's the only reason……it shouldn't cause any problem, if they are concerned about their customers.”

“This is a chilling new direction for Wal-Mart," Chris Kofinis, communications adviser for Wake Up Wal-Mart, a campaign financed by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), tells the paper. "It shows that when you work at Wal-Mart, you can neither afford a decent standard of life or even have a life."

Local officials say that employees who are fired because they cannot make the required commitment to Wal-Mart will be eligible for unemployment benefits.

Meanwhile, Black Enterprise magazine has named Wal-Mart Stores as being among its "30 best companies for diversity" for 2005, saying that the companies being recognized “outperformed other corporations in their peer group in four areas: the percentage of total procurement dollars spent with companies owned by African-Americans and other ethic minorities; the percentage of African-Americans and members of other ethic minorities on corporate boards; the percentage of senior management positions held by African-Americans and ethic minorities; and the percentage of African-Americans and other ethic minorities in the total work force.”
KC's View:
Wal-Mart may have a diverse workforce, but at least in one of its West Virginia stores, the African Americans who work there cannot be so diverse that they have any sort of life or commitment outside of their jobs.

Congrats to Wal-Mart for making the Black Enterprise list. And shame on Wal-Mart for letting people like this West Virginia manager not only make policies that are completely out of line, but then talk to the national media about it.

We would suggest to store manager Knuckles that if he were less of a knucklehead, he’d be better at time management and labor scheduling, and wouldn’t have to turn into some kind of fascist in dealing with his employees.

This is the 21st century. People have commitments to spouses, children, and other family members. Employers find that it helps employee morale to recognize and schedule around these commitments as much as possible, not issue edicts that say things like “Wal-Mart is first, and everything else is less important.”

(We suspect that there will be a bunch of folks arguing that this knucklehead is an anomaly and does not represent mainstream Wal-Mart thinking. And we’re willing to accept that. Just like we’re perfectly willing to believe, assuming that various juries say it is so, that it is specific individuals and not the company that have been guilty of gender-based salary discrimination, locking cleaning people in stores overnight, holding the occasional staff meeting at strip clubs, firing a dwarf with a medical condition for not smiling enough, etc… But at some point does senior management have to do a little self-examination and try to figure out what it is about the company’s culture that creates these individuals and/or promotes them into management?)

Here’s what old Knuckles doesn’t seem to realize, since he’s clearly been taking management lessons from George Steinbrenner. If you treat your employees like human beings and embrace them for their diversity and commitments, making it possible for them to have lives, many of these people will take a bullet for you, doing everything in their power to return the respect and commitment given to them.

Dictators inspire fear and loathing, but little else.