And then last November, on my way to work, I tried to save the lives of several people from a gunman who was behaving erratically and waving a gun at a busy intersection. I still went to work my shift at Wal-Mart. The very next day, I was abruptly fired for making an 18 cent mistake on a workers’ discount card. My manager knew what happened the day before, but it didn’t matter.
Wal-Mart says it values and respects our veterans, but I didn’t feel valued or respected that day I was fired without any regard for my service to my country or the company all those years — or to my community the day before.
Let me be clear: I didn’t want special treatment or recognition when I worked at Wal-Mart. But I did want to be respected. Instead I felt humiliated. I felt disposable. I felt duped.
Respect to me means having access to full-time hours and decent wages and benefits. Respect to me means working with good managers who will listen and respect my opinion instead of retaliating against me for speaking up for my right to medical care.
I knew I might have to fight overseas, but I didn’t expect that I’d need to fight here at home for respect and decent pay at the country’s largest employer — just so I could pay the bills. When I was fired, I was only making $9 an hour.
I know a better Wal-Mart is possible and I’m willing to fight for it. That’s why I became a member of the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), the group of current and former Wal-Mart associates who are united to make Wal-Mart a better place to work. We are calling on Wal-Mart to publicly commit to pay its workers a minimum of $25,000 a year for full-time work so associates can support and provide for their families. We are also calling for an end to illegal retaliation against workers who speak out for a better life and improved working conditions.
Recently, I traveled to Bentonville, Arkansas, with other OUR Walmart members — including a number of fellow veterans and striking Wal-Mart moms — to attend the company’s annual shareholders meeting to tell company leaders and shareholders that we urgently need a change of direction. We need change because Wal-Mart’s business model and empty promises are hurting workers and our communities.
Veterans from every American generation have put their lives on the line for our country, and it’s an insult that our country’s largest private employer pays us back with poverty jobs and erratic schedules that make it impossible to raise our families.
Wal-Mart veterans have had enough of the company taking advantage of our service for their public relations campaigns. If Wal-Mart really wants to honor us, it’s time to invest in us so we can support ourselves and our families.
Wally Lynn served in the U.S. Army from 1982-85 and is a member of OUR Walmart.