Quick Hit Aaron Cynic Wednesday August 6th, 2014, 2:39pm

Chicago Activists Push Walmart To Rehire Fired Pregnant Worker, Demand Better Treatment

About two dozen demonstrators held a prayer vigil at a Walmart store on Chicago’s South Side Tuesday night and called on the company to reinstate a pregnant worker that was fired back in May. The group also demanded that the company treat its pregnant employees better.

In April, Thelma Moore was injured at the store while shopping on her day off when television boxes fell on her. Moore says that although she filed the appropriate paperwork requesting reasonable accommodations to return to work, the company took their time processing the information, which ultimately led to her being fired.

Moore was joined by community members, members of Our Walmart and local clergy. Walmart employee Benet Holmes was also present. According to Holmes, she too dealt with problematic behavior from Walmart management when she was pregnant, adding that the issues ultimately contributed to her having a miscarriage. According to Think Progress, Holmes was allowed by the store manager to switch to light duty after she informed him of her pregnancy, but other managers took issue with the change and she ended up on regular duty. Holmes said lifting heavy boxes and stocking heavy items “definitely” contributed to her miscarriage.

During the vigil, the demonstrators accused Walmart of being unfair to pregnant women.

“The store manager has a history of not respecting women,” said Pastor Darryl Russell of Change You Can Believe in Missionary Baptist Church. “We think the environment in there towards pregnant women is unacceptable. We want to send a message that they need to revisit their policies on pregnant women, not just revisit them but change them.”

As the small group sang and lit candles on the sidewalk near the store entrance, Pastor Walter Turner of New Spiritual Light Missionary Church said to the demonstrators, “To do this is inhuman, to allow something like this to take place. We’re here to pray that the walls of justice would take over and that peace would reign and that somebody would have some type of common sense.”

Store management declined to comment on the demonstration, but a Walmart company spokesperson called the claims “inaccurate,” adding that the allegations do not represent the typical Walmart associate experience.

Stories from women like Holmes and Moore are part of a discriminatory pattern, according to the National Women’s Law Center. A letter sent to Walmart made public by the group highlights the story of a former employee in Maryland, Candis Riggins, who alleges that she was terminated after she began calling in sick due to the chemicals used in the cleaning of store bathrooms. While Walmart has recently adopted a policy that requires accommodations to be made for pregnancy-related disabilities, Riggins said requests to transfer to a more accommodating position were ignored.

“Walmart gave light duty to my colleague who hurt his back, but when I asked for a temporary job transfer they wouldn’t help me out,” said Riggins. "Finally, I had to choose between a healthy pregnancy and my paycheck. No pregnant worker should have to make that terrible decision.”

In June, the Illinois legislature sent a bill to Governor Pat Quinn that provides more protections to pregnant women on the job. House Bill 8, sponsored by State Representative Mary Flowers (D-Chicago) and State Senator Toi Hutchinson (D-Chicago Heights) requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant women, including limits on heavy lifting, assistance with manual labor, more break times and time to recover from childbirth. In May, Quinn pledged to sign the bill, which was sent to him in June.

Holmes said that while she hasn’t had much communication with store management, a representative from the Walmart home office has been working with her and offered the condolences.

“She was going to have a training with her managers in the store to make sure they get better results next time,” said Holmes.

Meanwhile, Moore says that she would like her job back.

“I have a family to take care of, but Walmart obviously doesn’t understand that because if they did, they would’ve looked at my concerns and needs before they terminated me,” she added.

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