COMPETING THROUGH TECHNOLOGY Worker Organizing and Competing Apps at Walmart The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union has tried for years without success to organize Walmart employees in hopes of negotiating higher pay and benefits and other standard contractual terms (eg, a grievance procedure). Recently, a group called OUR Walmart separated from the UFCW union and is now seeking to be an advocate for Walmart employees. Part of its strategy involves using social media, and it recently developed a smartphone app called Workit, which it has asked employees to download. The app collects employee-related information, including name, e-mail address, telephone number, and zip code. Of course, such information is essential in any organizing attempt. The app also provides a way for employees to communicate with one another including comparing notes about working at Walmart. The app uses artificial intelligence, as well as “a peer network of experts,” to answer employee questions about working at Walmart, including those having to do with their legal rights. What was Walmart’s response? DON’T-“Don’t download” it The Wall Street Journal reports that Walmart has directed store managers to tell employees the app was not developed by Walmart and to describe it as an OUR Walmart “Scheme” to get employees to hand over personal information to the union by using deceptive and sick looking social media and apps. Clearly, technology allows employees to communicate with one another and for union organizers to communicate with employees. Thus, employers will need to think through their own social media strategies for getting their message across to employees Fast forward a few years and we see that Walmart has done just that and has now moved beyond just advising its employees “don’t download” Workit. Instead, Walmart now has its own app, My Walmart Schedule, a smartphone app that gives employees the ability to view schedules, trade work shifts with co-workers, and pick up additional shifts, all without involving a manager. In other words, it does most everything Workit did, which one might infer is exactly what Walmart had in mind. Walmart says the My Walmart Schedule app gives employees more flexibility and also assists managers and frees them up from spending as much time on scheduling The app also has a feature called “core hours, which goes well beyond Workit and is available in about 2,000 Walmart stores. It allows employees to select a set schedule for a 13-week period. This is a huge improvement over what had been the status quo, where employees would only have 25 weeks’ notice of what their work schedule would be That capability helps address employee complaints that such short notice and changing work schedules did not allow them to plan and live their lives. One employee described the new app and the set 13-week schedule ability as “life-changing” because now you can predict your paycheck amount and make a doctor’s appointment. That sort of employee reaction is good for Walmart, which as we saw in an earlier chapter, is facing increasing competition for employees given the historically low unemployment rate. As we also saw this has led to Walmart increasing its wage rate Giving its employees more stable and predictable work schedules should also help it attract and retain employees. It may also provide further assistance in its effort to stay union-free. DISCUSSION QUESTIONS 1. From a union’s perspective, what are some advantages of using social media and apps for its communications? 2. From a company’s perspective, what are the risks of encouraging employees use of social media to communicate with one another? 3. Why did Walmart develop its own app?
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