It comes as no surprise that Walmart is once again under fire for the treatment of employees.
This week, all eyes were on Walmart’s annual shareholder meeting, where advocacy groups took the fight to the executives to advocate for higher wages and also change policies regarding sexual harassment.
Adriana Bautista, 35, has been working for Walmart for almost 14 years. She lives in Bay City, Texas (just an hour and half from Houston) with her husband and four daughters, and where 21% live under the poverty line. She maintains her job to take care of her four daughters.
Hispanics and Latinos make up about 14% out of the 1.5 million U.S. employees Walmart has, yet according to Alisse Lugo, organizer at United for Respect (where Adriana is a member) they face discrimination from managers and customers for speaking little to no English.
Bautista, who was born in Mexico and has been living in the U.S. for 20 years, says that she enjoys working for Walmart, but changes to policy in the last several years have reduced her work hours and her paychecks.
She started in Walmart working full-time night shifts, only to get home at seven in the morning to prepare and take her daughters to school, barely sleeping. After seven years of the same routine, she changed to part-time to be able to spend more time with her daughters, but this meant giving up benefits.
In the past few years, her work schedule has become uncertain. As policies started to change, her shift hours became erratic. Before, she would work around 24 hours a week, now some weeks she gets only five, meaning her quarterly paychecks would come at around $300.
Bautista says she is expected to always be on call during the weekends and busy times.
“You need to completely be at their disposal. You always have to be available for when they call,” she said.
A 2018 report done by United for Respect found that over the last decade, Walmart has been reducing full-time positions and shifting to a part time workforce, part-time positions going down 80% to 50% from 2005 to 2018.
Both the report and Adriana’s story also confirm that part time employees receive less benefits than their full-time counterparts, and have fewer opportunities to move up in the company.
Even after working there for almost 15 years, she only makes $11.50 an hour. Working more hours would give her a living wage, but at the same time, childcare is so expensive that she can’t afford to be away from home either, which is why she believes in raising the minimum hourly wage to $15.
On Wednesday, Vermont senator and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was invited by United for Respect to attend the shareholders meeting in Arkansas to demand an increase to the “poverty wages” that the company provides.
Senator Sanders was able to go inside, but many members of the group alleged on Twitter that they were denied entry.
The meeting is starting, and there are empty seats inside, but @Walmart @WalmartInc would not let us in despite having all the proof we need as shareholders to attend the meeting. #WalmartShares #BernieAtWalmart pic.twitter.com/zHmCphEhvs
— United for Respect (@forrespect) June 5, 2019
Sanders presented a proposal as a proxy for Walmart employee Cat Davis seeking to increase wages. He also took the opportunity to scold the Walton family, who owns the majority of the stakes at the company, for investing billions in stock instead of paying decent wages.
“Despite the incredible wealth of its owner, Walmart pays many of its employees starvation wages. Wages that are so low that many of these employees are forced to rely on government programs like food stamps, Medicaid, and public housing in order to survive,” Sanders said.
During the meeting, CEO Doug McMillon—who earns 1,000 times more than the median employee— greeted Senator Sanders and made a point of highlighting the work the company has been doing to increase wages.
“We’ve moved up our starting wages in the U.S. by 50% in the last 4 years…we’ve invested an incremental $4.5 billion in pay, beyond our traditional annual wage increases, for our U.S. store and club associate,” he said.
Bautista, who participated in a promotional video supporting Senator Sanders’ stance on Walmart, says that no matter how many changes her schedule faces, she can’t leave the job.
Natalia Rodríguez Medina is the 2019 summer correspondent for Latino Rebels. She is a member the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY’s Class of 2019. Natalia tweets from @nataliarodmed.