Walmart Managers Won't Tell Workers About their Newly Won Rights
Cyndi Murray standing up for respect at Walmart.
Photo Credit: OUR Walmart
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At her Walmart store in Laurel, MD, Cyndi Murray is known for helping her fellow workers figure out “what is policy and what isn’t, and what we can do and what we can’t do.” It’s imperative, she said, because “our managers won’t tell you.”
That’s why she’s hoping to get the word out about Walmart’s two new policy changes. One allows workers to pick up shifts online in order to gain more hours, which pads their paltry pay. The other provides new protections for pregnant women, who have been subject to harsh labor conditions including being ordered to move heavy items.
These changes are big deals for Walmart workers, Murray said, before noting a downside. Store managers aren’t required to explain the new policies to workers — and many apparently are not — which means employees don’t always know about them. Moreover, since Walmart put its workers’ handbooks online, it’s difficult for workers to keep up with new policy changes that benefit them.
“There’s a lot of people who don’t know that [these changes] exist,” said Murray, who four years ago was one of the initiators of OUR Walmart, an organization of Walmart employees demanding respect in their workplace.
“We need to educate them,” she said. "Still to this day, it’s about helping other associates in need.”
Walmart’s ‘Downward Spiral’
Murray has worked for Walmart for 14 years as a fitting room associate, but it wasn’t until about six years ago that she started seeing changes. “It wasn’t in the better direction, it was actually in a downward spiral,” she said. “And I could see what it was doing to the workers.”
Seeing coworkers in tears after being disciplined became more commonplace. It wasn’t long before Murray found herself getting chastised by management. Murray, who suffers from chronic back pain, remembers the day she was called in the backroom by her manager and told she was going to have to start lifting heavy boxes.
“I said, ‘Hold up, I have a medical note in my file,’” Murray recalled. “So she throws an empty folder at me across the desk. So I said, ‘Okay, well, I’ll call my attorney and I’ll have him fax you my medical restrictions.’ Well she stood up on the desk — and spit is coming out of this lady’s mouth — she said, ‘What are you doing? Threatening me?’ I said, ‘I’m not threatening you. This is over. You’re not going to talk to me like that. This is intimidation.’”
Murray was shocked at her treatment, saying she had always followed directions and was on time. When she walked out of the meeting, an organizer handed her a card for a former campaign to make change at Walmart.
“Right then and there, that’s what made me stand up,” she said. “Because it wasn’t just me. They started doing it to associates for a long time.... I decided then that I was not going to stand by and let it happen.”
Winning Against Walmart
While there are many overarching issues for workers to address at Walmart, such as low wages, OUR Walmart organizers are also focusing on tackling other important policy changes one at a time. Some of their first aims, such as gaining more hours for workers and reforming the policy for pregnant workers, were recently achieved.
“This shows what’s actually possible in terms of changing company policy through the pressure [OUR Walmart] has been able to exert and the publicity they have gained for their actions over the past couple of years,” said John Logan, a labor and employment studies professor at San Francisco State University.