June 19, 2014
“The White House Summit on Working Families Needs to Hear Worker Voices”–A Guest Blog by OUR Walmart Member Bene’t Holmes
As a 25-year old single mother I know the realities of trying to survive on low wages. I live with my five-year old son in Chicago and I work for Walmart, the world’s largest private employer and a company that made over $16 billion in profits last year. In the nine short months I have worked for the giant retailer, my heartbreaking experiences have driven me to take action and stand up for pregnant and working mothers.
I work hard every day in hopes of a better life for me and my family. Achieving the American dream, while working at Walmart is nearly impossible. I have four family members who either still work or have worked for Walmart and all of us have been left wanting jobs with an employer that values our work, respects our voice, and provides real opportunity to earn a living. I have firsthand knowledge of how difficult it is being stuck in a cycle of low wages and unstable schedules that prevent me and other workers from getting ahead and being independent.
I struggle to take care of my family on the poverty wages I earn working for Walmart. I work full-time and make under $9 an hour, which comes out to only about $15,000 a year. Because of my low wages, I cannot afford a home for my family and must rely on others to survive. Despite my best efforts to be financially independent, I recently had to apply for food stamps. And that is just of the tip of the iceberg when it comes to my struggles working for Walmart.
In February of this year, I suffered one of the most devastating losses of my life. I was four months pregnant when I asked my manager for job duties that were less physically demanding. I knew that the work I was performing was putting excessive strain on my body. Even though a doctor said I needed to work light duty, my manager denied my request and the next day I had a miscarriage while at work.
I asked for a leave of absence after the miscarriage to recover and was denied that request as well. To add insult to injury, my managers attempted to discipline me for my absences. Besides feeling betrayed by Walmart I questioned how a company that champions family could be so cold and heartless when one of its own employees is dealing with a tragedy.
I had to act—no woman should ever be put in that position again. I used my story to speak out and empower other women. I found out about the associate-led Organization United for at Respect (OUR) Walmart and fought to have my leave approved. Working with OUR Walmart, my request was eventually granted and all disciplinary actions against me were dropped. Building on that momentum, 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.
The White House Summit on Working Families needs to hear our voices. Millions of workers, especially working women, have stories similar to mine. They are trapped in a cycle of low wage jobs with unpredictable hours that make it difficult to raise a family. My hope is this event will help elevate the ongoing national conversation about making today’s workplaces better for everyone, including working mothers like me.
I believe the work I am doing through OUR Walmart will bring about needed change at my company. Obviously, more can be done to better the lives and circumstances of working women and their families. The White House Summit on Working Families is the perfect place to highlight and advance this effort.
Bene’t is traveling to Washington, D.C., to attend the White House Summit on Working Families. The Summit will be held on June 23 and is hosted by the Center for American Progress, partnered with the White House, and the U.S. Department of Labor.