Wal-Mart Shines in Canada

Unlike Fortune’s 2007 list of the 100 best employers in the United States, the list of the 50 best companies in Canada includes Wal-Mart as a best employer.

In fact, this is the fifth time in six years that the company has been identified as one of Canada’s best employers.

For example, the list cites Wal-Mart Canada’s “Tell Mario” program, designed to allow any associate to communicate ideas to Wal-Mart Canada’s president and CEO Mario Pilozzi.

So far, the company says the program has generated nearly 1,000 tangible suggestions to improve the business.

In addition, senior executives conducted a cross-country tour of “listening sessions” with in-store associates to gain direct feedback for enhancement and improvement of in-store roles.

The company has created more than 55,000 new jobs since it was established in Canada in 1996.

Women hold more than 30% of Wal-Mart Canada‘s senior executive roles. Wal-Mart Canada’s chief operating officer and the heads of human resources, IT, financial services, audit, Eastern-Canada operations, home and seasonal merchandise, logistics, and supply-chain management are all women.

Women hold 15% of Wal-Mart’s senior executive roles in the United States.

Of the 27 executive-level positions in the United States, women lead four divisions:

  • Claire A. Watts serves as executive vice president of product development, apparel and home merchandising, responsible for apparel, shoes, jewelry, and home furnishing merchandise programs.
  • Linda M. Dillman serves as executive vice president, risk management, benefits, and sustainability, a role that oversees the company’s health and wellness efforts.
  • Patricia A. Curran serves as executive vice president, store operations, responsible for operations of the retailer’s more than 3,800 U.S. stores.
  • M. Susan Chambers, executive vice president, people division, responsible for training, recruiting, succession planning, HR technology, diversity, and regulatory issues.

(Also, on the company’s 14-person board of directors in the United States, three are women.)

Kory Lundberg, a Wal-Mart spokesperson, did not provide material or comments for this article, instead suggesting that corporate statistics “can be found at walmartfacts.com.”

While Wal-Mart in the United States did not make the Fortune list for 2007, it has made the list in other years (the company was number 94 on the list for 2002; number 80 on the list for 2001; and number 66 on the list for 1999).

“However, the company is precipitously a far worse employer over the years,” says Chris Kofinis, communications director at the grassroots organization Wakeup Walmart.

He says one fundamental difference is that Canada operates with different “provincial and federal laws, so there are certain things they cannot do there. Here, they exploit weaknesses in the law.”

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The Washington, D.C.-based organization says some Wal-Mart employees lament the company’s current attendance policy, which puts a strain on workers who have to leave suddenly to tend to emergency family issues.

However, Wal-Mart has agreed to make minor changes to its company-wide attendance policy after hearing feedback from workers and others involved with Wakeup Walmart.

Now, the organization says it plans to push for Wal-Mart to reverse other decisions like salary caps, open availability scheduling, healthcare, and shifting employees to part-time schedules.

“Over the last year, they have decided to shift thousands of jobs — 20%, in fact — from full time to part time. The disparity of pay is large, and eligibility for healthcare is slim. The reality is that the “catastrophic” high-deductible plan is not working. How is someone who is a part-time worker supposed to afford a $3,000 deductible?”

He says this is “another attempt to push out people who have children, and another attempt at pushing full-time workers out,” says Kofinis.

Consumers care about “values” as much as they do value, he says, and public perception counts.

For Wal-Mart to make Fortune‘s list again, “the company needs to step back and realize that the more you mistreat your workers and exploit them needlessly, the more it impacts your bottom line,” says Kofinis.

“The last two years have been two of the worst years for Wal-Mart,” he says. “December 2006 was the worst holiday season on record. And November 2006 showed a huge decline in rate of same-store sales growth.”

“After Sam Walton passed, his legacy was increasingly a distant memory. Whereas Sam Walton valued people and employees as a key part of the company — and I am not saying he was perfect — he was more determined to make the employees part of the team. The current executive team views employees as a commodity,” he adds.

Elaine Rigoli has nearly 15 years of experience managing content and community for various B2B and consumer websites. Elaine has written thousands of business and technology articles and has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal and eWeek, among other publications.

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