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Published: Monday, 11/18/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Food drive for Walmart workers stirs wage debate

Company: Employees care about each other

BY OLIVERA PERKINS
CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER

CANTON — 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.

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 Ms. 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.”

Mr. Lundberg said the decision to hold the food drive at the Canton Walmart was made 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 a 12-year employee at the Canton store, who didn’t want to use her name for fear of being fired, said 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.



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