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Walmart Employees Organize Food Drive ... for Other Walmart Employees

The Exchange
A Walmart store in Canton, Ohio is reportedly collecting food for employees who can't afford Thanksgiving dinner. Photo: Organization United for Respect at Walmart.

Is this proof that Walmart (WMT) doesn’t pay its employees a living wage?

The photo above was taken by a Walmart employee at the company’s Canton, Ohio store and sent to the Organization United for Respect for Walmart, or OUR Walmart, an group that supports employee actions at the retail chain’s store. It appears to show a food drive at a Walmart store being organized on behalf of the company’s own employees, suggesting that workers at the world’s largest retailer are unable to support themselves on their wages alone.

"Why would a company do that?" Vanessa Ferreira with OUR Walmart asked the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Monday, after receiving the photo from the Walmart employee. "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 employee who took the photo, who asked not to be identified for fear of losing their job, told the Plain Dealer that they had never seen a similar food drive for employees in a decade-plus working for the company, calling the sight of the bins last week “kind of depressing.”

However, another associate from the same Canton Walmart location, Erica Reed, told the Plain Dealer that the store has been holding such food collections for a few years, and that she personally benefited in the past when she was dealing with the loss of $500 in monthly child support payments.

Coworkers in need

Given Walmart’s long-standing reputation for low pay and its rumored unfriendly attitude toward labor, it’s easy to assume that the employee food drive is a reflection of those corporate values.

Not so, says Walmart spokesperson Kory Lundberg.

“That store has set up a bin for associates to help out other associates,” he told Yahoo Finance. “These are people that have had some unforeseen hardship in the last year. Maybe their spouse lost a job, or they experienced the death of a loved one, or a natural disaster impacted their home; things you just can’t plan for. It’s a chance for associates to look out for and help each other.”

The bins are kept in the employee break room, Lundberg says, adding that he is not aware of similar collections at other locations as these drives are done on a store-by-store basis. But the company does have a program in place to help associates dealing with particular hardships, he says. The Associates in Critical Need Trust allows Walmart employees to support those in need via payroll deduction, with hardship grants of up to $1,500 available to associates that need a little extra help. The program has distributed $80 million worth of these grants since 2001, according to the company.

A trend in retail?

Still, the revelation of this employee food drive brings back a wage debate that was reignited in October of this year when it was reported that McDonald’s (MCD) was advising its own employees to apply for food stamps as a way to deal with high expenses. Labor advocacy group Low Pay Is Not OK released a recording of a phone call made by a McDonald’s employee to the company’s in-house “McResources” help line in which the employee asked about getting assistance to pay for her heating bill, groceries and other expenses. The operator reportedly said that the caller, “definitely should be able to qualify for both food stamps and heating assistance.”

And that story came on the heels of a report out of the University of California Berkeley Labor Center that found that 52% of families of fast food worker receive some sort of public assistance, as compared to 25% of the population as a whole.

What do you think? Is the Walmart food drive for employees in need a valuable community service for the store’s associates or the result of the company’s broader wage policies?