Fighting for Family Values at Walmart

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benet_holmesIt took a tragedy to make me a Champion of Change.

I work at a Walmart store in Chicago, and like many Walmart workers, I work hard to provide for my child. But it hasn’t been easy. I make $8.75 an hour, which is about $15,000 a year. My five-year-old son and I live with my parents because I can’t afford a place of my own. Almost half of my pay goes toward day care for my son, and—like many Walmart workers—I recently applied for food stamps just to make ends meet. While it’s always been a struggle to work at Walmart, I never spoke up until I suffered through one of the most heartbreaking experiences of my life.

Last February, I was four months pregnant with my second child, and asked my manager for an assignment that required limited lifting because I knew that the work I was performing was putting excessive strain on my body. My manager refused my request, and the next day I had a miscarriage at work. When I asked for a leave of absence after my miscarriage, I was denied that request as well. I took time off anyway to recover from my miscarriage, and my manager attempted to discipline me for my absence.

Besides feeling betrayed by Walmart, I questioned how a company that champions family values could be so cold and heartless toward an employee that was dealing with the loss of a child. I knew I had to act because I didn’t want other women at Walmart to go through the same experience. That’s why I became a member of the associate-led Organization United for Respect Walmart (OUR Walmart). Working with OUR Walmart and women’s groups, I became involved with the “Respect the Bump” campaign to ensure that all pregnant women at Walmart are able to get light duty when they need it.

A few months ago, we achieved our goal when Walmart announced a major policy shift that will ensure that women with pregnancy-related complications are given some basic accommodations that will help them keep their jobs and provide for their families. While this policy does not go far enough to provide reasonable accommodations regarding physical demands for all pregnant women, it’s a step forward in protecting the jobs and the health of women and their babies. OUR Walmart members are also calling on Walmart to publicly commit to paying its workers a minimum of $25,000 a year, providing full-time work, and ending the company’s illegal retaliation against workers who are speaking out for better jobs.

I’m proud to be part of a movement that’s leading the fight to change the way Walmart does business, and hope my story will inspire others to take a stand for better workplace conditions even in the face of tragedy.

Bene’t Holmes works at a Walmart store in Chicago and is a member of OUR Walmart.