NEW YORK Walmart has been coming under a lot of fire lately. Two of its suppliers were found to have been making goods in a factory where 112 people died in Bangladesh, and employees throughout the U.S. walked out of the store on one of the busiest days of the year to protest working conditions.
But the company, never a crowd favorite at worker-solidarity gatherings, might be trying to change. In a speech to the National Retail Federation in New York on Tuesday, Chief Executive Bill Simon said the company would hire any returning veteran who wanted a job. He also said the company would buy more products from the U.S. and help more employees become full-timers.
It was the 2012 election and the gridlock in Congress that motivated Simon to introduce these initiatives, he said.
The election clarified for me that its time for those of us outside politics to get to work, he said. I find it fascinating that during the campaign we all waited with bated breath each month for the government to tell us how many private-sector jobs were created. After all, its the private sector that creates jobs.
Walmart said it plans to hire more than 100,000 veterans in the next five years as part of a program to offer a job to any honorably discharged veteran in his or her first 12 months off active duty. Simon said veterans are often good employees, and his company plans to begin hiring them after Memorial Day.
Not every returning veteran wants to work in retail, he said. But every veteran who does will have a place to go.
Veterans will be placed in jobs in stores, clubs, distribution centers and the corporate office, he said.
Hiring a veteran can be one of the best decisions any of us can make, he said. Veterans have a record of performance under pressure. Theyre quick leaders, and theyre team players.
Some retail workers immediately questioned whether veterans would want to work for Walmart. They include Edgar Lucas, 38, a U.S. Army veteran who has worked for the store and other retailers in New York.
If you are looking out for the veterans, they need something thats guaranteed 40 hours a week, he said. They need to know their schedules.
Everybody knows that Walmart, theyll work you 28 hours, make sure that you dont get 40.
Simon pledged to bring more transparency to the stores scheduling system to allow part-time workers to choose their own hours, and said Walmart would make internal changes to help part-timers become full- timers. He didnt provide details about how the company would do that.
Workers are going to make sure that the kind of jobs that theyve announced for veterans are the kind of jobs that workers need, said Yana Walton, a spokeswoman for Retail Action Project. That means enough hours and living wages and jobs with benefits.
Simon defended Walmart jobs during his speech.
Some people say we dont offer good jobs. I say this industry is the greatest engine of opportunity in the United States of America, he said.
National Retail Federation CEO Matthew Shay praised Walmarts announcement on veterans, calling other retailers to follow the companys lead.
It is nothing less than visionary for a great American company to make such a bold pledge to help our American heroes, he said.