Walmart asks employees to feed each other
This is an astonishingly bald-faced admission of the rotten labor practices that sustain the existence of mega-conglomerates in our country:
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- 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.
Is the food drive proof the retailer pays so little that many employees can't afford Thanksgiving dinner?
Norma Mills of Canton, who lives near the store, saw the photo circulating showing the food drive bins, and felt both "outrage" and "anger."
"Then I went through the emotion of compassion for the employees, working for the largest food chain in America, making low wages, and who can't afford to provide their families with a good Thanksgiving holiday," said Mills, an organizer with Stand Up for Ohio, which is active in foreclosure issues in Canton. "That Walmart would have the audacity to ask low-wage workers to donate food to other low-wage workers -- to me, it is a moral outrage."
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.
But an employee at the Canton store wasn't feeling that Walmart was looking out for her when she went to her locker more than two weeks ago and discovered the food drive containers. To her, the gesture was proof the company acknowledged many of its employees were struggling, but also proof it was not willing to substantively address their plight.
The employee said she didn't want to use her name for fear of being fired. In a dozen years working at the company, she had never seen a food drive for employees, which she described as "demoralizing" and "kind of depressing". The employee took photos of the bins, and sent them to the Organization United for Respect at Walmart, or OUR Walmart, the group of associates holding the strikes in Cincinnati and Dayton.
Vanessa Ferreira, an OUR Walmart organizer, said she "flipped out" when she first saw the photos taken by the Canton worker.
"Why would a company do that?" she said. "The company needs to stand up and give them their 40 hours and a living wage, so they don't have to worry about whether they can afford Thanksgiving."
The strikes against Walmart, which have been staged in the last several weeks across the country, including at stores in California, Florida and Illinois, are focusing on three issues: ensuring that no associate makes less than $25,000 a year, offering employees more full-time work and "ending illegal retaliation" against employees who speak out against pay and working conditions.
The first strike occurred last Black Friday at Walmart stores throughout the country. Though most associates remained on the job, many credit the event with being the public launch of the low-wage workers' movement. Efforts to raise the minimum wage would follow, including a bill pending before Congress to raise the federal hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10. (The minimum wage in Ohio is $7.85.) In the time since, fast-food workers also have staged strikes, demanding the minimum wage be raised.
Shades of Dickens.
A second relevant tidbit: a recent Oct 2013 joint study by UC Berkeley and UI Champaign-Urbana found that: *More than half (52 percent) of the families of front-line fast-food workers are enrolled in one or more public programs, compared to 25 percent of the workforce as a whole.
*The cost of public assistance to families of workers in the fast-food industry is nearly $7 billion per year.
*At an average of $3.9 billion per year, spending on Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) accounts for more than half of these costs.
*Due to low earnings, fast-food workers' families also receive an annual average of $1.04 billion in food stamp benefits and $1.91 billion in Earned Income Tax Credit payments.
*People working in fast-food jobs are more likely to live in or near poverty. One in five families with a member holding a fast-food job has an income below the poverty line, and 43 percent have an income two times the federal poverty level or less.
*Even full-time hours are not enough to compensate for low wages. The families of more than half of the fast-food workers employed 40 or more hours per week are enrolled in public assistance programs.
I'm not happy about subsidizing Walmart's lousy business practices with my tax dollars. You?