Wages have been going up at Wal-Mart, but the global retail giant has been cutting workers' hours to trim labor costs.
"Managing hours is a routine part of running a sustainable operation, and in select number of stores, it requires keeping those hours to what was originally budgeted," Wal-Mart spokesman Kory Lundberg told CNBC on Monday.
Lunberg spoke after Bloomberg News reported that Wal-Mart has asked workers to leave shifts early or take two-hour lunches. The cuts only affect stores that are exceeding their budget for staff and would not affect expanded service quality against the backdrop of the back-to-school season, Lundberg told Bloomberg. But workers interviewed by Bloomberg said they have observed longer wait times for some customers.
"This year, associates are getting more hours, better pay, and more predictable schedules than last year," Lundberg told CNBC. "We're pleased with the progress we are seeing and its impact on improving traffic and comp sales, as we reported during second quarter earnings."
The retailer missed its latest quarterly earnings estimates and pared down future guidance earlier this month, after increased customer service costs and theft took a bite out of profit margins. The past year also brought headwinds from abroad, as the value of the dollar soared compared to foreign currencies.
At the same time, protesters have been pushing for better worker treatment. One protest was held at the annual shareholder meeting in June.
"There is no business result worth more than your integrity," Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon said at the June meeting, referring to wage increases. "We would rather have a bad financial result than take a short cut."