Walmart dips its toe into addressing store understaffing. Maybe.

For months, news report after news report after news report has identified systematic understaffing as the reason for Walmart’s ongoing out-of-stocks problem. (That problem, in turn, has been contributing to low customer confidence, weaker-than-expected sales results, and bizarrely-rigged audits.)

It looks like Walmart has woken up to the problem. At least sort of. Bloomberg reports today:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is moving 35,000 part-time workers to full-time status and is elevating another 35,000 to part-time from temporary after struggling to keep shelves stocked with too few employees in the past year. Also, about 55,000 seasonal workers will be hired for the holiday season, up from 50,000 last year, the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer said today in a statement. The 70,000 workers whose employment statuses are being elevated will keep their new positions after the holiday season ends, said Kory Lundberg, a Wal-Mart spokesman.

On the surface, this is a good step forward for Walmart and its associates. But there are two things to keep an eye on here:

First, this step only partly makes up for ongoing staffing declines in Walmart stores. According to Bloomberg, Walmart’s total U.S. staffing has fallen by 120,000 associates in the past five years, even as the company has opened over 500 new stores. That is, the recent drop in the company’s U.S. workforce far outstrips the additions the company says it will make.

Second, will Walmart’s staffing promise hold? An initial statement from a member of the Organization United for Respect at Walmart, which identified understaffing concerns more than two years ago and is calling for more full-time positions and improved scheduling, suggests that some associates are skeptical. Said Cindy Murray of store #1985 in Laurel, MD:

“OUR Walmart is glad to hear that executives are taking our calls for more hours and steady schedules seriously, but it’s difficult to tell from this announcement the impact that this will have, or if it will be truly implemented…Walmart shareholders and customers need improved staffing in stores – year-round, not just during the holiday season. Personally, I have been trying to get more hours for 13 years, and I really hope this is not one more of Walmart’s empty promises.”

The company’s staffing announcement should also be read as an indication that recent, intensifying worker protests are having more of an effect on the company than the company would like to admit. As part of a ramped-up PR offensive, Walmart is dispatching its flacks to stridently discredit OUR Walmart and deny that it is having any impact on the workforce. If OUR Walmart members didn’t matter, why is Walmart pulling out all the stops to try to stop them?

What do you think?