Part one of our conversation with former and current Wal-Mart Associates with the labor organization Our Wal-Mart who talk about current issues facing Wal-Mart employees and the failure of the Democratic Party to stand up for workers.
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MIKE SAINATO: Walmart has led a high-profile campaign against raising their workers receiving a $15 minimum wage, forming a union, and receiving full benefits. In 2016, Walmart increased their minimum wage to $10 an hour but for many, they remain a symbol for everything wrong with how corporate America treats their workers. Since 2011, OUR Walmart has provided a space for workers to organize. This is Mike Sainato with the Real News Network here at the People’s Summit, 2017. I’m here with Katie from the organization OUR Walmart. Katie, can you tell us a little bit about your work at OUR Walmart and some of the issues that you’re trying to address for Walmart employees? KATIE FARINA: Well, some of the things that we work to address at OUR Walmart is sick time leave and maternity leave. Our CEO, Doug McMillon, does not let us use doctor’s notes in order to be able to get off of work. In a rolling time period, we have 9 points. The 9 points is used for sick time, for when your kids are sick, but if you’re sick and then your kids get sick, you don’t have any time with the kids to take care of them. We also have maternity issues that we are working on, with … To get more maternity leave, and also we would like to be able to have mothers actually be with their kids and not have complications from just working at Walmart. Because when somebody is pregnant at Walmart, they don’t give you any … They don’t make it easier for you. They make you work the same what you were working before and they don’t think pregnancy is an issue. Sure, why not, because I had been there for 6 months. I got hurt on my job, and they kept … My managers kept moving me to space to space, because they didn’t think that I could handle it but I did. I powered through it. I was on Cap Team 2 which is really hard work. It’s like labor. I was told by a man that I can’t do the same work he does. MIKE SAINATO: In numerous speeches, Bernie Sanders singled out Walmart’s leadership saying, “The Walton family of Walmart owns more wealth than the bottom 40% of America.” Critics say the billionaire family’s wealth has come at the expense of Walmart’s workers, wage theft, employee abuse, low pay, lack of employee benefits, and anti-labor union efforts are just a few of the commonly cited complaints against the corporation. On top of that, studies have found taxpayers subsidize Walmart’s low wages to a tune of 7.8 billion a year. The company has vehemently defended itself against many of those allegations that have been brought up in court lawsuits. KATIE FARINA: I think we all think that the Walton family should be paying a lot more because the issue is we get paid starting $9 an hour, not the $10 that they say because you actually have to take a class online that says, “Oh, now I can work $10 an hour,” but it’s not guaranteed full-time and it’s not guaranteed hours. I mean, we’ve had many people who have hours that are four-hour shifts and some that are eight-hour shifts but we want full-time. They don’t offer full-time to people. MIKE SAINATO: So, Daniel, can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved with OUR Walmart? DANIEL COLES: Well, first of all, I’m a 24 current Walmart associate. I work at the Walmart store 2110 in Paramount, California. Reason I got involved with OUR Walmart was my very special friend, Sheila Green, we had a meeting together and she invited me to get involved. I’ve been involved with OUR Walmart for at least about seven years. I’ve been on strike. Went to jail twice with them and also, too, I helped one of the current leaders with OUR Walmart basically what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to change policies at Walmart, make Walmart store a better company for the workers that is coming up behind us and everything. That’s why we’re trying to do is change Walmart’s policy. MIKE SAINATO: And what specifically did you want them to listen to when you went on strike? DANIEL COLES: Basically, it’s about hours, extra shifts, picking up extra shifts for the workers. 15 for full-time hours, that’s what we’re basically fighting for. MIKE SAINATO: Do you think the Democratic Party as it is today, do they care about Walmart employees at all? DANIEL COLES: I believe Bernie Sanders is the one that was caring about the workers, Walmart workers and all the workers. That’s all I know but as for Hillary, I’m not sure. Right now Walmart have started a customer first policy where they schedule associates to come in at peak hours to help customers to get out of the store faster. Right now I have to tell you, it’s not working out great. I’d like to be honest, it’s not really working out, it’s a headache. But for Walmart, right now, I’m just kind of sad that they took away a lot of stuff. We used to get paid holiday pay. We don’t get holiday pay anymore, they took it away, took away that. We used to get paid Sunday premium. We don’t get paid that no more either. MIKE SAINATO: How did you get involved with OUR Walmart? KATIE FARINA: So long story short is, I had followed all the kind of things that they tell you to like go back to school, get an education. I had worked at Walmart for three years and I quit to go back to school but when I graduated from the University of Minnesota I needed something to supplement my career choice because it was going to be a long time before I could actually get my foot in the door. I got really frustrated at the idea of having to go back to this company that I had left because I had not really enjoyed working for them, lots of bad things going on in the store I felt with favoritism, bad policies, being overworked, being underpaid, being under-appreciated overall. So when I started back at work, I said, “Something needs to be different this time.” Dealing with health issues, I had an incident where I was sick with bronchitis. I had no more days I could be missing work so I had to go to work sick because I didn’t want to get fired. I needed my job. I ended up having to go to the Emergency Room afterwards to get medication to try and alleviate the pain I was feeling from the coughing. I said that, “This has got to change. This is not something I can keep putting up with.” That’s when I decided to quit and go back to school. So I was just really excited to hear that there was something out there that could be there for me to help make things better. MIKE SAINATO: How receptive has Walmart been to your concerns and complaints and OUR Walmart’s? KATIE FARINA: In general not very receptive. Walmart fired me the same day I talked to an attorney from the Labor Board in 2015 but I haven’t quit talking to Walmart workers. We’ve been growing in the membership and really I think Walmart has to either accept and acknowledge that we’re not going to change unless they’re changing with us. We’re not going away, we’re going to be here long term. Our members are going to continue to fight this fight no matter how many of us they fire. There’s always new people coming in and always new people who’ll join this organization. DON ANDREWS: Yeah, my name’s Don Andrews. I’m a proud member of OUR Walmart and I’m also a current associate still at Walmart in Sacramento, California. I’m a meat sales associate so that’s what I do. MIKE SAINATO: What inspired you to join this organization? DON ANDREWS: Just seeing the massive amount of profits that our company reaped in while average people like me and plenty of other people that I know that are parents trying to provide for their kids are scraping by and riding bicycles because they can’t afford a vehicle. I mean, that’s just one little thing but I mean just seeing the massive wealth, income inequality in Walmart, you know? MIKE SAINATO: And can you speak to some of the wide reports of wage theft that Walmart has been stealing wages from their employees? DON ANDREWS: Yeah, you know, see the thing is is Walmart will say, when you get a job they’ll say, “You have other duties, too, when needed,” and that means they can pull your to a department that pays higher and this is what HR told me at my store that as long as it’s under half of your week they don’t have to pay you that pay. It happened a couple times where I stepped down from meat department for a while and they tried to pull me back even though I got a pay cut for it. I would have to call out because I thought it was a moral issue to where I felt it wasn’t right when I stepped down from a position because of stress and they were pulling me back there and giving me lesser of pay to do what I did before. MIKE SAINATO: What are some of the other issues that OUR Walmart is fighting that you would like to see Walmart actually address? DON ANDREWS: One of the big things is sick time, that’s one of the big things we’re focusing on, whether it be physical health or mental health. I mean, I’ll speak from my perspective especially mental health is huge because of the stigma society already has on it. I had in August a mental health situation for myself come up where the doctor wanted me to take two weeks off and to go to classes. So I went through about five days and Walmart started telling me if Sedgwick, which Sedgwick is the third-party approval that Walmart has to approve your doctor’s note, if they didn’t approve it, they said, I would reach a certain number of occurrences and I’d be fired. So I stopped getting the doctor treatment and I went back to work early because I was afraid to lose my job. Sedgwick finally approved it but it was three hours before the deadline when it was a two-week thing. MIKE SAINATO: Why do they have you, insist on bringing a doctor’s note? I think that’s a little bit strange for an employer to demand that. DON ANDREWS: Well, the thing is, the funny party is, the doctor’s note really doesn’t mean anything. The doctor’s note, it starts to process because then you’ve got to get Sedgwick involved which is a third-party verifier to verify that your doctor is right, you know? That’s the crazy part to me because if my doctor says, especially because I work meat, so let’s just say I have a cold. If my doctor says that I should be out for four days because I’m around food, I don’t think Walmart or Sedgwick should have the right to tell me no because that’s food that goes on people’s plates. MIKE SAINATO: Have you seen any instances where a doctor has said something and Sedgwick has gone against that? DON ANDREWS: Personally, not me yet but like I said in my situation I was so afraid of the pressure of being not approved by Sedgwick, I wasn’t able to get the proper treatment I was supposed to get. MIKE SAINATO: Hillary Clinton’s ties to Walmart run deep. From her tenure as a member of the company’s board from 1986 to 1992 to the lobbying firm co-founded by her campaign chair John Podesta currently representing Walmart as a company. Fellow board member John Tate, who served with Clinton from 1988 to 1992, called labor unions, “Blood-sucking parasites.” Throughout her time at Walmart, Clinton reportedly never spoke up on behalf of labor unions or workers. Alice Walton, the daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, donated $353,400 to the Hillary Victory Fund and $25,000 to the Ready for Hillary PAC in 2015. MIKE SAINATO: So Hillary Clinton was a board member of Walmart during Bill Clinton’s governorship of Arkansas. Can you tell me a little bit about your feelings on Hillary Clinton’s strong ties to Walmart? DON ANDREWS: It’s honestly disgusting. This is the thing. As an associate, there’s 1.4 million of us in America and our choice was between a former Walmart executive as one of the major party leaders and someone who eventually went on to appoint our CEO, Donald Trump, he appointed our CEO on our Economic Advisory Board. That’s why as an associate I’ve been telling other associates we can’t trust the Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton’s the main reason. Bernie, that’s one reason I volunteered for Bernie when he ran because he was the first major party candidate I ever heard talk about the associate and not the company itself. So I mean, just seeing the direction the Democratic Party’s going and seeing the Clinton ties with Walmart it was a slap in the face to the so-called party that’s supposed to represent labor. It showed us, the labor in the country, that the Democratic Party sure as heck does not have our back. In fact, to be honest, they’re no different than the Republicans in a lot of ways. MIKE SAINATO: Can you expand on that a little? You know, Donald Trump is doing a lot of things to hurt, you know, people in the demographics that work at Walmart and a lot of different communities all across the country. So can you expand on the Democratic Party continuing to fail working-class, low income, middle-class employees and those individuals? DON ANDREWS: Yeah, I mean, let’s start with the Fight for 15 for example. I mean, the Democratic Party, I look at Seattle, I can’t remember the name of the city councilwoman- MIKE SAINATO: Kshama Sawant. DON ANDREWS: I remember hearing her talk about one of the biggest opponents to the Fight for 15 was the Democrats. The thing is is because a lot of the Democrats have ties with these major corporations, I mean, Tony Podesta, John Podesta’s brother, and John Podesta was the campaign organizer for the Clintons, he is a lobbyist for Walmart. So you look at the ties are there. That’s what I tell people. I mean, you’ve got six people that have about the same amount of wealth as one third of the bottom of America and, yes, they’re no different than the Koch brothers. They put their money where they see it will benefit them and that’s why they don’t have a problem throwing money to the Republicans or the Democrats because they’re one and the same. Either way, they’re going to fight against 15. They’re going to fight against healthcare for workers. They’re going to fight against things like paid time off that workers need because they’re going to say it hurts business needs. So I mean there’s plenty of evidence there to show that the Democrats and Republicans it doesn’t matter who we elect, we’re going to get the same result. That goes from everything from the labor issues to foreign policy and things like Syria. MIKE SAINATO: How do you think Progressives should push Democrats or elect them out of office so that we have a Democratic Party or even a new third party that actually represents these issues and the interests of most Americans? DON ANDREWS: You know, I’m glad you said that because I was about to say, if you’re going to say hope in the Democratic Party, I was going about to sink that ship. No, I definitely think, everybody, it’s important you get involved in a third party movement. You know, for example, I’ve gotten involved in the Party of Socialism and Liberation. Even if it’s Green Party, even if you’re a Republican and you’re getting involved with the Libertarians, it’s time we buck this two-party monopoly because it’s not working for the average person. It doesn’t matter who wins. I mean, look at Obama. I mean, Obama did a lot of the same things that Bush did when he was in presidency. I’m from California. Obama shut down more marijuana dispensaries than Bush did, you know what I mean? It doesn’t matter who we’re electing now to these two parties, we’re getting the same result. So I encourage everybody out there, especially Walmart associates, get out there, get involved with parties that are pro-Socialism, especially, because they’ll fight for the workers and things like higher wages. When you got Walmart and Waltons banking and we’re living, you know, in poverty. You know, get involved because that’s the only way we’re going to stop the titans of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party is if we stand up and we volunteer and we fight as a unit. MIKE SAINATO: What do you say to a lot of establishment Democrat talking heads like MSNBC’s Joy Reid who have said that, you know, mocked people who say that the two parties are both the same? DON ANDREWS: Well, you know, for example, Rachel Maddow who I want to say makes $30,000 a day. It’s easy to mock something when you’re living in comfort but when you’re struggling to pay bills, when you’re choosing between paying your electricity and eating today or something like that, there’s no room to wait. People like Rachel Maddow and MSNBC, they can wait because, I mean, MSNBC’s owned by Comcast. They’re on of the largest political contributors in the system, you know? So of course they’re going to put something out that is for what they fight for and that’s why I say MSNBC, they’re right-wing, too. I mean, Rachel Maddow, she’s, I want to say it was on the Jimmy Dore Show out of all things where they talked about how many times she brought up Russia and it was like Russia, Russia, Russia, Russia. It’s like McCarthy and the Red Scare all over again but this time they’re only using it to make a crappy excuse for why the Democrats can’t win. MIKE SAINATO: Do Walmart employees care at all about Russia? DON ANDREWS: No. We don’t give a crap. We care more about paying our bills and surviving. MIKE SAINATO: This is Michael Sainato with The Real News Network.