Wal-Mart Exploited Me and When I Fought Back, I Got Fired
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Maxim Maksutov
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I remember the moment when I first began to fight back against Wal-Mart. The Placerville, Calif., store where I worked was getting ready for a visit from corporate management, and four of us were assigned to the overnight shift. We had to rearrange merchandise aisles, since the company had spent hundreds of dollars to redecorate the store with fake flowers, plastic table covers, glass vases and glossy photos. It looked to me like our managers wanted to put on a real show.
It’s Wal-Mart policy that employees working the night shift earn an additional dollar after three weeks. But when our third week approached, the management switched us back to the day shift. What a pointless exercise: In the end, the corporate executives didn’t show up, and we didn’t get the extra dollar we deserved. It wasn’t fair — and I was sick of it.
This certainly wasn’t the first time I’d experienced the short end of Wal-Mart’s last-minute policy changes. After six years, I’d had it up to my eyeballs with erratic policy shuffles and a lack of respect for its associates.
For the longest time I rationalized to myself: I needed this job. As a single mom, I did whatever it took to keep a roof over our heads, even if that meant shelving electronics and housewares for $12.05 an hour. But I also knew that as a mother, I needed to stand up for what was right, even if it meant taking on our country’s biggest private employer.
Don’t get me wrong — I love my job and customers. But no matter how hard I worked, I still didn’t make enough to afford even basic necessities like food, rent and clothing for my kids. And despite the years I’ve invested there, I was never guaranteed 40 hours a week. Sometimes, I was scheduled as few as eight hours a week. I had to visit three different local food banks one month just to feed my family. Eventually, I had to turn to food stamps.
I’m not alone. When I started talking to my colleagues, it was surprising to find how much we all struggled, scraping by on poverty wages. I’ve spoken to Wal-Mart employees who drove from California to Mexico for access to affordable healthcare. And even worse, plenty just skipped the doctor altogether when they were sick. (I could barely afford the healthcare, which was $72 out of monthly checks that were as low as $600.) And while we struggle, Wal-Mart continues to make $16 billion in profits each year.
But rather than make changes for associates, it seemed to me like Wal-Mart instead retaliated against those of us who would speak out.
And so I resolved to fight. In June, I joined more than 100 associates who went on strike and traveled to Wal-Mart’s annual meeting in Arkansas to let shareholders know what was going on. We were protesting what we believed to be Wal-Mart’s attempts to silence workers who speak out for better jobs.
Many of my fellow strikers lost their jobs. We were simply exercising our constitutional freedom to fight for a better life and better working conditions inside a company that has benefited extravagantly from our labor. And the company that so regularly promotes its American values responded in a manner that seems fundamentally un-American and unfair.
I grew angrier, and my fights grew louder. I joined other working moms at a sit-in at Wal-Mart board director Marissa Mayer’s Yahoo office, because she has been silent while Wal-Mart breaks the law. I refused to leave until Mayer heard my concerns, and I was arrested. The next day, I publicly confronted Mayer at Yahoo’s shareholder meeting about Wal-Mart’s illegal termination.