The supermarket giant known for its orange smiley face might not be as friendly as it first appears. Adding to a long list of complaints and grievances, Walmart has recently received flak for harassing a breastfeeding mother. It took staging a nurse-in to get a response and an apology from the store manager.
On the 4th of July, Shawnee Colabella had been casually shopping at a South Carolina Walmart when her four-month-old son began fussing around. She sat down to nurse him, quickly drawing the attention of numerous employees. Colabella explained that the staff surrounded her, criticized how offensive and disgusting the act was and urged her to cover up or go somewhere else. They also questioned the legality of breastfeeding her son in public. Furthermore, the manager refused to speak with her when she requested to see him. So much for “Independence” day.
Colabella eventually called the Walmart headquarters and was told the situation would be reviewed. She then organized a nurse-in this past Monday, gathering over a dozen other mothers at the front of the store to freely nurse their children and hold signs. While the initial incident seemed to have gotten shrugged off by the management, the bigger protest garnered much more attention.
As WYFF News 4 reported, Walmart has finally apologized for harassing the breastfeeding mother. Their spokesman, Randy Hargrove, stated the store “recognize[s] the intimate and personal nature of the decision a mother makes to breastfeed their child – and we never want to make her feel unwelcome in our stores because of it.” A marketing manager also contacted Colabella, promising new plans to educate their employees about breastfeeding and require more courtesy towards nursing mothers. Are these assurances worthy any merit, however?
This is not the first time a Walmart branch has treated its customers poorly. Katu reported back in June that an Oregon store was allegedly preventing a disabled man from using one of the motorized carts. Michael, who suffers from a protrusion in his spinal cord which makes walking difficult, requested the cart only to be denied by one of the employees. In that case, the manager did come out and apologize. However, a month later the scenario repeated for one of Michael’s friends. Incidents like these cast a shadow of doubt over how meaningful the store’s apology really is.
Walmart has long been criticized for its treatment of not only the customers but also employees. Timothy Egan, writer at the New York Times, has pointed out that the low wages are a “net drain on taxpayers” by forcing the workers to seek public assistance such as food stamps. A store in Ohio has even displayed a sign asking the customers to donate food so that the workers “could enjoy Thanksgiving.” Many employees also do not work full-time, meaning they do not qualify for medical insurance or other benefits provided by the company, leading to a yet another strain on the already low paycheck.
Perhaps one of the most shocking stories happened on Black Friday a few years ago, when a worker was trampled to death by the rush of overzealous customers. However, despite all these incidents, the mega-store still remains one of the biggest chains and providers of goods in America. Walmart harassing a mother for breastfeeding seems like a small drop in a corporate bucket that is too big to overflow or topple any time soon.
By Jakub Kasztalski