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Walmart vs. Windy: The Sound of Lies

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Walmart likes to say "our people make the difference."

Aubretia Maria Edick is one of those Walmart people who wants to 'make a difference' in how her employer treats its 1.3 million American workers.

Aubretia, 63, who was born in England, still uses the nickname "Windy," which her younger brother tagged her with half a century ago, after a popular song in the 1960s about a woman whose eyes "flash at the sound of lies." Windy says she's heard lot of lies during her years at Walmart.

Windy's first job for Walmart was as a temp worker in Hudson, New York in 2001, on the recommendation of her stepfather, who worked for Walmart for 15 years -- first in the maintenance department -- and later, when his health weakened, as a People Greeter. "Walmart demoted him after his gall bladder operation," Windy says.

Windy remembers the day her stepfather had a stroke on the job.

Walmart called me at home. It was my day off. They said my stepdad wasn't feeling well, and asked if I could pick him up. My car was in the garage, so I had no transportation. It took me 45 minutes to be by his side. Walmart had put him in a wheelchair. I got him into his car (no one helped me) and took him straight to the hospital ER. But the damage had already set in. He eventually died in a nursing home.

Windy began in the Walmart Lawn & Garden department. She was making $7.40 an hour. She was hired as a permanent and moved into Fabrics & Crafts. "I was really a good worker," Windy told me, "and still am. I get along with the customer and do my job." She watched as Walmart destroyed all the fabric stores in Hudson. "There were 4 places to buy fabrics," she recalls. "After Walmart, there were no more fabric shops in Hudson. Then Wal-Mart decided to stop selling fabrics. People who wanted to buy fabrics had to drive 40 miles to Albany or Kingston. Walmart hurt a lot of people."

In a bad twist of family karma, Windy had a heart attack at work. A Walmart worker drove her to the hospital parking lot, let her out, and said "hope you feel better." Windy was out of work for 8 months. She asked Walmart if she could get a transfer to a store in Chicopee, Massachusetts, where she had friends, .and the employment picture seemed more promising

Walmart assured Windy that "everything would be the same" when she transferred to the new store, but when she got to Massachusetts, "they didn't even know me. They said they had no openings." She eventually talked her way into part-time work in February of 2013.

Today, after 11 years at Walmart, Windy makes $11.40 an hour as a night shift cashier, and averages around 27 hours per week. Her hours fluctuate every week, usually no lower than 25 hours. She makes about $16,000 a year -- before withholding. That puts her gross pay about $12 a day over the federal poverty line. Walmart claims that the average worker in Massachusetts makes $13.75 an hour -- an unverified assertion. Windy has never seen a wage that high, but fortunately she collects widow's benefits from her deceased husband's Social Security since 2012, another $1,020 per month.

Windy bought Walmart's cheapest health plan, which costs her around $454 a year in premiums. "My deductible is ridiculous," she adds. "It's $2,750 if I stay in network. I chose the least expensive plan -- and it shows." Like several thousand other Massachusetts Walmart workers, Windy also carries a Medicaid card in her purse. "Walmart told everyone about Medicaid when I applied for work. I now carry two health cards. As soon as Walmart finds out you have a health problem, they try to find a reason to let you go."

Windy joined the group OUR Walmart just after it started. This vocal network of Walmart workers says its mission is to ensure that all employees at the retailer are treated with dignity and respect.

"I'm not anti-Walmart," Windy explains, "but I am pro-associate."

When my manager first became aware that I was part of OUR, he told me I was not allowed to talk about OUR while working, or on the floor. But I still pass out OUR Walmart literature in the store. I don't try to hide it. I told them that's my right. I wear my OUR hat to work. I wear it on my break, and in between that, it's in my locker. My manager just stands there watching me. It's gotten really stressful. He'll stand in my line like a customer and when he gets up to me, he turns off my light -- so customers behind have to move away. That's his way of letter me know he wants to talk to me.

Since June, Windy has filed two unfair labor practices against Walmart with the National Labor Relations Board. She got a verbal warning from her manager following her 10 day absence during a recent OUR Walmart action. "They said it was not a legitimate strike, and that I needed to call in everyday I was out. Walmart thinks we're all dummies -- but I know my rights."

Windy admits that things are pretty difficult at work, "because Walmart tries to put a rope around me and rein me in. They would be very happy if I was a machine. But I'm not. I'm a human being."

Last month, Western Massachusetts Jobs With Justice organized fifteen people to meet with Windy's manager at her cash register, urging Walmart to rescind any disciplinary action against her, and a "Justice for Windy" rally is planned for September 6th at her store.

I asked Windy: "After all you've been through over the years with Walmart, what would you say if a you saw a young person at your store filling out a job application?" Her eyes flashed for a moment. "You don't want to work here," she said quickly. "This is not the place to work. You have to fight for everything you deserve."

Aubretia "Windy" Edick is one of millions of low-wage retail workers across America who have finally found -- as her song says -- their "wings to fly."

Al Norman is the founder of Sprawl-Busters. This October marks 20 years of helping citizen's groups fight big box stores. His most recent book is Occupy Walmart