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story.lead_photo.caption This undated file photo shows Wal-Mart's sign in front of its Bentonville headquarters.

Walmart Inc. says a new team-based organizational structure that it is presenting at its supercenters will give employees more skills and help them advance their careers. But some store workers are unhappy with the changes and fear losing their jobs.

The Bentonville retailer said on Sept. 17 that it will implement the new operating model called Great Workplace in October. It has been in place at Sam’s Clubs, Walmart’s members-only warehouse division, since last year and was taken to the smaller-format Neighborhood Markets earlier this year.

Dacona Smith, chief operating officer of Walmart U.S., said in a news release that the model has proved successful so far, and the move into supercenters is the “next step” in taking it to all the company’s 5,300 U.S. clubs and stores.

“Across the store, we’re creating small teams of associates who will be cross-trained and given ownership of the work and their area,” Smith said. “This means they’ll gain more skills and be able to support associates who want to take time off or just need extra help during a busy shift.”

A Walmart spokeswoman said Friday that the team approach “means more associates are knowledgeable and trained to do more roles across the store, which will be key this upcoming holiday season and during other peak times.”

The Great Workplace format leaves store managers in place, but assistant store managers and department managers must apply for the newly created team positions.

“To lead these new teams, we’re introducing new, future-focused leadership roles in our supercenters, both at the salaried and hourly level,” Smith said. Under the new system, he said, current co-manager roles will become store leads, while assistant manager positions will be coach roles and department manager jobs will be team leads.

“These new positions will develop their teams, deliver our strategic priorities and be responsible for empowering our more than 1 million associates as they take bigger roles in the business,” Smith said.

“As we’ve tested this team approach, associates have gravitated to the connection and camaraderie that come with being part of a small team that supports each other and works together toward shared goals,” Smith said.

Employees not chosen for one of the new roles can stay at the company if they choose to, Smith said, either in their current jobs or a similar one if offered. They’ll also keep the same pay rate through Oct. 21, 2021, he said. The Walmart spokeswoman said those workers will remain employed after that date.

And workers who apply for the new jobs but who aren’t selected may also choose to take severance pay, the company has previously said.

The new salaried and hourly team leader positions come with higher pay, Smith said. Wages for hourly team leaders will start between $18 and $21 and can go up to $30 at supercenters. Smith did not say how big a raise the salaried workers will receive.

Some front-line workers in the bakery and deli areas will see their minimum hourly pay rise from $11 to $15. All these raises will start next month in place of the annual pay increases typically made in February or April.

About 165,000 hourly workers will get raises under the Great Workplace structure, Smith said. However, starting in the first quarter next year, they will no longer get the quarterly bonuses based on store performance, he said. These changes will give employees higher and more consistent base pay, he said.

Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, raised its base starting pay to $11 an hour in 2018. The average, full- and part-time hourly wage was more than $14 in the last fiscal year, the company said. In comparison, Target Corp. raised its minimum pay for all hourly workers from $13 to $15 in July.

Cynthia Murray, a Walmart employee and member of United for Respect, said in an emailed statement that store workers “are only now learning the details of our employer’s new staffing model, but we are already concerned and anxious about what is to come.”

“We are risking our lives to serve Walmart customers during the pandemic and helped generate record profits,” Murray said, “and it is unacceptable to me that executives would push new staffing models with zero input from the frontline employees.”

And raises for only some workers “will not cut it,” Murray said, adding that all Walmart’s 1.5 million U.S. workers should earn at least $15 an hour.

Further, “promises that jobs and pay will be maintained until October 2021 are no relief when we’re already struggling to make ends meet and there’s no certainty that the economy will be in full recovery in a year,” Murray said.

Walmart’s announcement also fails to address employees’ repeated demands for more coronavirus protections, which is their biggest concern at this time, Murray said.

“For months, I’ve lived in fear that I could get sick with covid-19 while at work, while the Waltons’ fortunes have ballooned by billions,” Murray said. “Now, I might lose my job and be left without any severance or health care during the pandemic.”

While Walmart didn’t say where the idea for its Great Workplace initiative came from, industry experts have been touting a shift to a team-based work culture. A recent report from financial consulting firm Deloitte titled “The New Retail Operating Model of the Future” advises retailers to adopt a new cross-functional and decentralized structure.

“Break down the organizational silos and show every employee the ‘big picture,” Deloitte said. “Make sure people from different departments and with different skill sets are working together to realize one common goal.”

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