What It's Like to be Pregnant and Working at Wal-Mart

 photo iStock_24179443_MEDIUM.jpg
by Regina Mays

As a mother of two children--one with special needs--it can be hard to provide the love and care that your children deserve, all while working to pay for groceries, rent and transportation. So when I landed a job at Walmart, I felt relieved. I'd heard so many great things about the company that I assumed their part-time job offer meant a reasonable 20 hours a week.

The store placed me at the deli working weekend hours and closing the store. The night shift was difficult. It demanded tasks like scrubbing floors, lifting heavy bags and moving large slicers. We were expected to check the schedule constantly for last minute changes.

I pushed through knowing I had to provide for my family, but the hours were hard and the schedules were unreliable. Once, I went without pay for three weeks because they didn’t provide me with enough hours. Other weeks, despite having been hired for 20 hours a week, I’d be assigned 30 hours, and sometimes even 40 hours repeatedly without any offer of a full-time position.

And a full-time position would have been helpful. It would have provided health insurance, paid sick leave, or short term disability.

When I got pregnant, Walmart refused to change my hours or give me less physically taxing work, despite orders from my doctor. Every time I had a doctor’s appointment, or needed time for my health, it was counted as an occurrence that could easily amount to my termination.

Talking to the management felt like a dead end. I was told, “This is retail. You are expected to work nights and weekends. Nothing should come before your job.” Apparently, “nothing” included my health and my pregnancy. Walmart made me feel inhuman.

Without any reasonable accommodation, my health declined significantly, and I was forced to go on maternity leave early. I ended up with no income and no way to support my children. Working at Walmart means coming to work sick or risk losing your job. They left me with no choice, and that is the worst feeling in the world.

I have worked for Walmart for five years, and I know I am not the only person forced to choose between my family and my job.

Over 43 million people in our country do not have access to paid sick leave. That means that every day families are choosing between earning a living and taking care of their own health, or the health of a close family members.

No one in America should have to make that decision. We need policies that protect pregnant workers and promote a healthy work-life balance. No one should have to do what I did: choose between risking a pregnancy and the ability to provide for a new child.

We shouldn’t be okay with workers coming in sick or having to leave behind a sick family member in order to make ends meet. And we don’t have to be ok with it -- our elected officials our elected officials can put a stop to these bad business practices by supporting paid leave policies. Cities and states across the country have taken individual actions, but that still leaves out people that live in areas that aren’t as progressive.

We shouldn’t have to wait. Companies like Walmart should lead the way. Walmart employs millions of people in all 50 states -- and that means thousands of pregnant women facing what I did every day. While elected officials from City Councils to Congress work on legislation, Walmart should lead the way with paid sick leave, family leave, and fair scheduling for workers. I love where I work, and I love Walmart’s family-friendly brand -- now I just ask that they extend that family-friendly image to workers.

I was fortunate to be able to keep my job even though I’m on leave without pay, but many workers across the country have been fired for getting pregnant, sick, or leaving work to take care of a family emergency.

As public officials stump for votes, they need to realize that economic policy is about more that deficits and taxes. Workers with families want to know how national and statewide policies will support economic security for working families. For my family and many others, paid sick leave would go a long way towards making sure we can provide for our families while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Regina Mays is currently on unpaid leave with Walmart. This piece is part of the OUR Walmart Campaign and We Won’t Wait, a national, nonpartisan convening of nine national groups, representing millions of members, working to amplify the power of women of color and low-income women in 2016 and push a new economic security agenda. For more information please visit www.wewontwait2016.org.

No comments:

Powered by Blogger.