Tuesday, July 1

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss?

Replace my name with yours and my "name" with the ridiculous name of your choosing, and tell me you did not have this exact conversation at some point in your early teenage years:

Tim: I hate my name. It's stupid. I don't want to be called Tim anymore.
Mom/Dad/Gramma/Buddies: Well, what do you want to be called?
Tim: Bor.
Them: ...
Bor: He's the Father of Odin. Norse God of War.
Them: Okay, Tim.
Tim: Dammit!

Well, Wal*Mart announced last week that it doesn't like it's name anymore, and in an effort to be the hip kid when it goes to highschool, it wants everybody to start calling it... Walmart. They also took that little [chik] from the corner of their ads that looked like it was loading a Youtube video and put it at the end of the word (See new logo, infra).

The logo adjustment is part of a savvy marketing shift that includes new store facades and slogans and locally-grown produce and everything.

Everything but an end to labor problems, of course. Yeah, WM's on the hook again - this time in Minnesota - for $6.5 million, PLUS fines of up to $1,000 per violation. I know what you're saying: a grand? That's the punchline? Well, a grand per violation. And this is Wal*Mart - er, Bor - er, Walmart - so this is a class action. And there are somewhere around two million violations.

That's $2 billion plus in violations possible. Apparently, the managers up in the North Star State haven't been paying their employees when they work over their breaks. If that sounds familiar, this happened to Wal*Mart (remember them?) in Philly in '06 ($140 mil) and California in '05 (>$200 mil). They also settled a similar case in Colorado for $50 million. Oh - and there's about 70 more warming up all over the country.

The case - if you don't let the WM fanatics get in your way - brings up a lot of policy questions about HR and Corporate L&E decisions that are not easy to answer. The management of the Stores of 10,000 Lakes say they were pressured to cut payroll costs by Walmart brass in Arkansas, and since the stores were already understaffed, they started shaving time here and there to save enough to get their own bonuses.

WM is blaming the store managers, saying it's company policy to pay workers for every hour they work. But if you understaff your stores and then set corporate policy to shave payroll figures, is that deliberate on the corporation's part? Is it business judgment?

I don't know. A company should be able to cut costs as needed to be as profitable as possible. But if you're understaffing your stores, and working people as hard as retail employees work (which is really, really hard, if you were privileged enough to avoid such employment), situations like this are next to inevitable.

All I'm trying to say is people aren't going to think your cool if you show up with a new name and some fancy clothes and the same personality.