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Wal-Mart Stores to expand jobs for 70K workers

NEW YORK — Wal-Mart Stores is hiring 55,000 seasonal workers and is elevating 70,000 more to part- or full-time positions as the holiday season ramps up.

The world’s largest retailer said Monday that 35,000 temporary workers will become part-time and 35,000 part-time workers will gain full-time jobs.

The shift means that Wal-Mart will be offering more of its workers benefits. That’s significant because Wal-Mart has been a target of attacks by labor groups for what they say are skimpy wages and benefits.

Last season, Wal-Mart hired 50,000 workers and said it would offer more hours in general to its existing employees.

Coming off a slower-than-expected back-to-school season, stores are bracing for a tough holiday shopping period, which accounts for as much as 40 percent of their annual revenue. Analysts study the holiday hiring figures from retailers for clues about employment trends and sales expectations for the holiday season. Stores typically begin to hire for the holidays in mid-September and ramp up hiring in mid-October.

The increase of full-time positions with benefits rather than temporary jobs is a departure from what is going on elsewhere, said Bob Funk, an employment expert and CEO of Express Employment Professionals, which counts Wal-Mart Stores Inc. as one of its largest clients.

“We’re seeing hiring, but not at the magnitude of past years,” he said.

Retailers often look to part-time positions, which typically don’t include benefits, as a way to hold down costs.

Wal-Mart Stores, based in Bentonville, Ark.-based discounter, is the nation’s largest private employer, has 1.3 million full-time and part-time U.S. workers.

Whether or not the newly elevated employees get benefits or not depends on how many hours a week they work and how long they have worked with Wal-Mart Stores. On average, full-time Wal-Mart employees work 37 hours a week and part-time employees work 27 hours. Employees hired before February 2012 get benefits if they work 24 hours a week; employees hired later receive benefits if they work 30 hours or more a week, a Wal-Mart spokesman said.

Belus Capital Advisors analyst Brian Sozzi said that even though Wal-Mart is trying to address negative views of its worker benefits, the move is not likely to make a major difference overall.

“Wal-Mart is continuing to try to match its worker base with peak traffic time in stores,” he said. “If you work at Wal-Mart you are still probably not having a great standard of living.”

Overall holiday hiring is expected to be relatively flat because of cautious consumer spending and uncertainty about the economic environment. Employer consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. estimates that overall seasonal hiring will not change significantly from last year’s total, when hiring rose 14 percent to 751,800 positions between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31.

Other retailers are beginning to unveil holiday hiring plans. Target Corp. said last week that it plans to hire 70,000 workers, a 20 percent drop from a year ago as it tries to be more efficient in its hiring practices. And department-store operator Kohl’s Corp. said last week that it plans to hire about 53,000 seasonal workers for the holiday season, slightly more than last year.

Shares rose 53 cents to $76.36 in afternoon trading. The stock has traded between $67.37 and $79.96 over the past 52 weeks.