NEW YORK/CHICAGO, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc employees who say the world’s largest retailer’s labor practices are unfair voiced their concerns to Wall Street analysts on Monday, claiming that problems like long lines and empty shelves are systemic.
Five employees, two of whom have worked for the chain for more than 20 years, outlined problems they say they see, including unsafe conditions and low wages.
A handful of sell-side analysts turned out to hear from Walmart workers nearly a year after a similar meeting was held near Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas.
The meeting brought the employees’ complaints to an audience that is typically more concerned with Walmart’s bottom line, trying to convince analysts that issues such as low levels of staffing can lead to poor customer service, and therefore can impact sales and profits.
One employee, who said she has worked at Walmart for 13 years, including as a salaried manager, said her store threw out 2,000 pounds of leftover Halloween candy this summer after it had been too short-staffed to stock it on time.
Management tried to sell the expired candy in discount bins in the electronics department, and threw it out after it did not sell, she said.
“I’m really concerned with the way that I see my company going,” said the employee, Lori Amos, who helps move goods from delivery trucks to storage shelves. “Wal-Mart has cut employees’ hours and cut the labor costs to a point where it actually is harming not the just the workers, but it affects the operations day to day of the store and it also affects the customers.”
One 24-year employee from a Walmart store in Kenosha, Wisconsin said workers’ hours are being cut at her store, with positions either going unfilled or being filled by managers.
“There’s simply not enough manpower in the stores to fulfill these tasks,” she said, adding that some workers are being asked to run power equipment without proper training or certification.
The meeting was arranged by the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union, which is urging Walmart workers to speak out more about concerns over labor issues through a group of current and former Walmart employees called OUR Walmart. UFCW members work at grocery stores that compete with Walmart.
A Walmart spokesman said that labor unions have been trying to organize the company’s workers for years.
“It’s important to understand that OUR Walmart is a union-funded, union-backed group that is using a small fraction of the 1.4 million total people that work for us to further their own political and financial agenda,” said Walmart spokesman Dan Fogleman.
Suggesting that some workers’ stories represent the experiences of all Walmart employees “would be completely inaccurate,” he said.
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The gathering comes ahead of Wal-Mart’s annual investor meeting on Oct. 10.
Wal-Mart’s labor practices have garnered criticism among consumers and in the press, but so far have not impacted investors. Roughly half of Wal-Mart’s stock is controlled by descendents of company founder Sam Walton.
More than 30 analysts follow Wal-Mart shares. Of 28 analysts whose recommendations on Wal-Mart are tracked by Thomson One, seven have “Strong Buy” ratings, four rate it a “Buy”, 16 rate it a “Hold” and one has an “Underperform” rating on the stock.
Wal-Mart shares are up roughly 23.5 percent this year through Friday’s close, nearly in line with the 23.9 percent rise in competitor Target Corp and outperforming a roughly 15 percent gain for the Standard & Poor’s 500 index over the same period.
Wal-Mart has annual sales of about $444 billion, and 2.2 million associates worldwide.
In the United States, Wal-Mart has about 1.4 million employees in more than 4,480 stores including large supercenters, discount stores, grocery stores, small format stores and Sam’s Club warehouse club stores.
Its workers are not unionized, a fact that has drawn criticism. After years of trying to open a store in New York City, Wal-Mart said last month that it failed to reach a deal on a store in Brooklyn. The company faced opposition from some groups in New York that say it does not pay its workers adequately and would drive out small local businesses.
Separately on Monday, people were preparing to gather in support of workers who work for an outside contractor on strike at a distribution center outside Chicago that supplies Walmart stores.
Workers in Elwood, Illinois, have been on strike since Sept. 15 to protest what Warehouse Workers for Justice called “management’s illegal retaliation against workers attempting to present the company their concerns about wage theft, unsafe conditions and discrimination.”
Workers at a Southern California warehouse that supplies Wal-Mart also went on strike last month, for 15 days.