April Bohms Bartlett didn’t expect her activism for paid leave would lead to anything.
She had been working as a cashier at Walmart—part time, since nearly all the employees at her Dunnellon, Florida Walmart worked part time—when she heard from one of her friends at work about the OUR Walmart campaign. The campaign gave a chance for Walmart employees to speak up and push for better employee benefits, including higher wages and sick leave.
So Bartlett, a mother to four grown children with one foster child at home, opted to get involved. She started having phone calls with a team of organizers through OUR Walmart. On coffee and lunch breaks during her shifts, she encouraged her co-workers to sign the petitions and get involved.
“I always made sure we were off the clock,” she said in an interview with Slate.
So Bartlett was shocked to learn on Thursday that after only a year of activism, Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer and the nation’s largest employer of women, announced expanded paid parental leave benefits for all full-time hourly workers in their stores: 10 weeks of paid maternity leave for birth mothers and six weeks of paid parental leave for nonbirthing parents.
And how many weeks of paid leave for part-time employees? Zero.
Unfortunately, OUR Walmart estimates that approximately 60 percent of Walmart associates work part time, just like Bartlett. So while the paid leave policy is a major improvement for full-time associates, the policy will not be applicable for the majority of employees.
“Walmart has been moving away from full-time jobs to part-time jobs,” said Andrea Dehlendorf, co-director of Our Walmart. Bartlett says her store no longer hires full-time employees, though the ones that were already full time have kept that status. “Everyone new who comes in is part time,” she said.
PL+US, a paid leave advocacy organization that partnered with the OUR Walmart campaign on the paid leave issue, emphasized that major work still lay ahead. Executive director Katie Bethell cautioned that we “still have a long way to go before every American has paid family leave.”
But experts following the paid leave movement believe Walmart’s decision is a game-changer, especially for businesses who rely on hourly workers rather than salaried one.
“I do think it moves the needle in terms of what is expected for a company to offer,” said Vicki Shabo, vice president for workplace policies and strategies at the National Partnership for Women and Families. “If Walmart is offering 10 weeks of fully paid leave to workers, that is setting a bar that other employers should try and meet, though I’d argue that they should go farther.”
Before today’s announcement, Walmart was highlighted as one of the worst offenders on unequal leave, providing only six weeks of partial pay for new moms who worked full time and nothing at all for hourly workers who were nonbirthing parents. Salaried workers at Walmart, like Starbucks and many other companies, previously received better benefits than their hourly counterparts, though this new policy gives the same paid leave benefits to both salaried and hourly workers.
Walmart is the latest in a flood of companies that are expanding paid leave benefits, including Amazon, Starbucks, Ikea, and Nordstrom. The companies cite competitive reasons and employee concerns, though many, like Starbucks and Walmart, still have major gaps in benefits between full-time and salaried employees and part-time, hourly ones.
According to Shabo, the way to fix these patchwork and uneven policies is simple: a national paid leave policy. “It’s another indication in the growing sense that it is time for the U.S. to have national paid leave,” said Shabo. “It’s obviously beneficial to workers, it’s something that is beneficial to employers, and it will be beneficial to the U.S. economy.”
For Bartlett, who is in the process of adopting her foster daughter, those paid leave benefits that she fought for aren’t going to be realized because she works part time. “Everything is for the full-time workers,” she said. “What about us part-timers? We need the same benefits as full-timers. We’re single parents. What about us? We’re left out of the loop.”