By Dan Cook
A holiday season food drive has touched off a nationwide backlash against retailer Walmart.
Photos appeared on the web of multi-colored plastic bins located in an employees-only part of the Canton, Ohio, Walmart with a note attached that read: “Please donate food items here so Associates in need can enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner.”
“Associates” in Walmart speak means “employees.”
Walmart’s take on this was that it was a compassionate gesture from employee to employee, a reaching out to the less-fortunate associate from the more-fortunate so that all could enjoy a good tuck-in on Turkey Day.
A spokesperson even described the food drive as “part of the company’s culture to rally around associates and take care of them when they face extreme hardships."
Not everyone interpreted it that way.
The unnamed employee who took the photos told The Cleveland Plain Dealer that she was appalled by this appeal, the first she’d witnessed in a dozen years as a Walmart Canton employee. She said the food-drive struck her as “demoralizing” and “kind of depressing.”
Others saw it as just one more sign that Walmart “associates” are a sad, underpaid lot who face constant exploitation and intimidation at the hands of the retailer.
“That captures Walmart right there,” Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University's labor school, told The Plain Dealer. “Walmart is setting up bins because its employees don’t make enough to feed themselves and their families.”
Canton social activist Norma Mills told the Plain Dealer she felt both “outrage” and “anger” when she saw the photos of the bins.
“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,” she said.
Walmart has already caused a ruckus by allegedly violating the rights of protesting workers and bulking up on temporary workers in what some viewed as attempts to get around provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The food drive couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for Walmart’s critics. Protests are scheduled for Monday at Walmarts in Cincinnati and Dayton. The organizer of those protests, dubbed the Organization United for Respect at Walmart, has cited the employee food drive in Canton as further proof that Walmart underpays its associates.
Vanessa Ferreira, an OUR Walmart organizer, told The Plain Dealer she “flipped out” when she first saw the food drive photos.
“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.”
Originally published on BenefitsPro.com