As the holidays roll closer, a number of companies will be looking for ways to help those who are less fortunate. Some will raise money for charities, others will solicit donations of toys or warm clothes for children. Wal-Mart, the mega retailer that consistently ranks in the top first or second slot among Fortune 500 companies, is also doing something for those in need, with one store in Canton, Ohio, seeking food to help those who can’t afford the groceries for a full Thanksgiving meal.
The difference? They are doing it for their own employees.
According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Canton store is having a food drive, with tubs located in the employee break room to collect items for other associates working at the location. “Please Donate Food Items Here, so Associates in Need Can Enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner,” says a sign located by the bins.
The company claims that its altruistic gesture is being misconstrued. Kory Lundberg, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said that the effort was to show how much employees care for one another and help each other out. He told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “It is for associates who have had some hardships come up. 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.”
Maybe that is how the company brass believes they are presenting the food drive, but that still leaves open the fact that the reason that employees are unable to weather additional economic hardship is because their own financial stability is undermined by the low wages they receive from their employment with the company. If their associates were truly receiving a living wage, complete with standard benefits, the loss of a spouse’s job wouldn’t leave them in danger of literally having nothing to eat at Thanksgiving except the canned goods donated by a co-worker.
Sadly, the idea of seeing handouts as the proper way to supplement a low wage job, rather than considering pay increases or other means of compensating an employee, is epidemic among companies reliant on hourly employees. Recently, another scandal hit the newspapers when a worker at McDonalds recorded herself asking their company help line how to go about earning more per hour. The help line instead advised her to obtain Medicaid and Food Stamps as a way of stretching her pay.
Low-wage employees are fighting back at Wal-Marts all over the country, staging strikes that have been leading up to what could be a massive, profit-effecting planned strike on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that traditionally can make or break a retail season for many companies. Among the demands are a push for a $13 a hour wage, or minimum annual salary of $25,000, as well as health care benefits and other traditional benefits received by employees of other companies. According to a report by In These Times, less than one-third of the company’s 1.4 million workers earn over $25,000, leaving the majority of them earning less than the federal poverty level.
The income gap between employee and executives among the Wal-Mart “family” is massive and continues to remain so. Those who run the company insist that to raise employee pay would force them to lessen their low prices, making them less appealing to customers. However, a 2011 study on the issue shows that if the costs were all passed on directly to consumers it would increase each shopping trip by just 46 cents per trip. On the other hand, the increase could also be directly applied to the earnings of its highest executives. The CEO earns roughly $17,000 per hour, and an average worker would need to work 785 years to make his annual salary.
Despite all of this, Wal-Mart is encouraging its own low wage workers to donate food to other workers to help them get through any hardships. Perhaps the company can come up with a more generous way to “rally around their associates” rather than ask their already burdened employees to do it for them.
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