In a revelation that has reignited the debate over low wages, many outlets reported today than an Ohio Wal-Mart was holding a food drive for employees in need.
Here’s the story from the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
The storage containers are attractively displayed at the Walmart on Atlantic Boulevard in Canton. The bins are lined up in alternating colors of purple and orange. Some sit on tables covered with golden yellow tablecloths. Others peer out from under the tables.
This isn’t a merchandise display. It’s a food drive – not for the community, but for needy workers.
“Please Donate Food Items Here, so Associates in Need Can Enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner,” read signs affixed to the tablecloths.
The food drive tables are tucked away in an employees-only area. They are another element in the backdrop of the public debate about salaries for cashiers, stock clerks and other low-wage positions at Walmart, as workers in Cincinnati and Dayton are scheduled to go on strike Monday.
The CNN Money story had this response from a Wal-Mart spokesman. Note that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if other stores were holding similar drives:
Wal-Mart spokesman Kory Lundberg said that particular store has held similar food donation drives for several years. The food supports workers who are facing “an unforeseen hardship,” such as a spouse losing a job. Some of the food collected last year went to a mother whose child support benefits had stopped, so it helped provide her children a holiday meal, he said.
“I spoke to workers at the store today and they said that they’re going to continue to look after their folks who have realized a hardship recently,” Lundberg said.
He wasn’t aware of similar drives at any of its 4,000-plus stores nationwide, but he said he wouldn’t be surprised if they were.
The food drive plays into claims that Wal-Mart does not pay its workers a living wage.
In September, Bill Simon, president and chief executive officer of Wal-Mart U.S., said that less than half of the company’s U.S. employees make more than $25,000 per year. The federal poverty level for a family of four is $23,500.
A few months earlier, a report released by Congressional Democrats showed that the cost of these low wages are transferred to taxpayers, since employees then rely on public assistance programs. The report, put out by the Democratic staff of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, estimated that one Wal-Mart supercenter alone employing 300 workers could cost taxpayers at least $904,000 annually.
The Plain Dealer quotes the same spokesman as saying the move was “in-line” with company policy of helping those in need:
Kory Lundberg, a Walmart spokesman, said the food drive is proof that employees care about each other.
“It is for associates who have had some hardships come up,” he said. “Maybe their spouse lost a job.
“This is part of the company’s culture to rally around associates and take care of them when they face extreme hardships,” he said.
Lundberg said holding the food drive at the Canton Walmart was decided at the store level. However, the effort could be considered in line with what happens company-wide. The Associates in Critical Need Trust is funded by Walmart employee contributions that can be given through payroll deduction. He said employees can receive grants up to $1,500 to address hardships they may encounter, including homelessness, serious medical illnesses and major repairs to primary vehicles. Since 2001, grants totaling $80 million have been made.
ABC News had yet another defensive quote from Lundy, defending the initiative:
Kory Lundberg, a spokesman for Walmart, said this store of about 300 employees has been hosting a holiday food drive for a few years.
“Quite frankly, a lot of people in that store are frustrated and offended that this is reported in a way besides other folks rallying around each other,” Lundberg said.
Last year, he said there were about 12 people who benefited from the program.
“I couldn’t be prouder of people in that store helping in a tough situation,” he said.
“They set the tub up for associates and managers to donate items for associates for things beyond their control,” Lundberg said. “It shows these associates care for each other. This isn’t every day run of the mill stuff — maybe a spouse has lost a job or lost a loved one, or maybe a natural disaster has hit.”
But the Plain Dealer quoted an employee of the store calling the move “demoralizing” and “kind of depressing.” But what’s also terrible is that Wal-Mart isn’t talking about raising wages, just about their foundation to help those in need. It’s hard to imagine Bank of America or Gap employees holding food drives for each other in bank branches or malls across America. The plight of those making lower wages is especially prevalent around the holidays. As we all scramble for deals, the real cost of low prices can be seen in food drives for the underpaid.