Walmart to unions: "That’s all you got?"

Organized labor was crowing this week about a protest, or was it a strike, involving 88 Walmart employees at 28 stores in 12 states who didn’t show up for work on Tuesday.

Big deal. Eighty-eight employees not showing up at 28 stores works out to three employees per store. That level of absenteeism isn’t enough to even register on the radar of a busy Walmart store manager, especially one running a large store with upwards of 500 employees who is accustomed to plenty of drama. In other words, the challenging of compensating for employees who don’t show up, for whatever reason, is an operational issue with which store managers are very familiar.

The alleged strike was organized by a group calling itself Making Change at Walmart and was timed to coincide with the company’s annual fall investor conference. The group and others of its ilk have employed similar tactics in the past to portray Walmart’s relationship with its employees as frayed. Also this week another group called SumOfUs.org actually bought ads in local newspaper decrying Walmart’s treatment of workers and organized protests in Bentonville.

While the ads were running and the protests were underway, Walmart U.S. COO Gisel Ruiz was telling a different story to the financial community. A former hourly store associate herself, Ruiz began with the company some 20 years ago and said she was confident that employee engagement was at an all-time high.

She said 80% of associates received bonuses the past several quarters and over the past four quarters 162,000 associates were promoted. One million of the company’s employees and their family members are covered by health plans and there were five million applicants to work for the company last year.

"People want to work at Walmart," Ruiz said.