Employees at an Ohio Wal-Mart store are being asked to donate canned goods to help out co-workers who don’t have enough to eat at the holidays.
"Please Donate Food Items Here, so Associates in Need Can Enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner," reads a sign near bins tucked away in an employees-only area at the Canton store.
Wal-Mart employees in Cincinnati and Dayton were scheduled to strike Monday to demand higher wages for cashiers, stock clerks and other positions at the retailing giant, which was the target of a blistering congressional report that found many employees were paid so little that they were pushed onto public assistance.
A Wal-Mart spokesman said the food drive, which was photographed and shared on social media, was proof that employees care about each other.
"It is for associates who have had some hardships come up," said company spokesman Kory Lundberg. "Maybe their spouse lost a job.
Lundberg said the food drive was set up by the Canton store, but it could be considered to in line with the company’s Associates in Critical Need Trust that’s funded by employee contributions and grants up to $1,500 to assist in hardships such as homelessness, mental illness and major auto repairs.
One employee said she found food drive containers in her locker about two weeks ago and took photos to send to Organization United for Respect at Wal-Mart, which is organizing the strikes elsewhere in Ohio.
The employee, who asked to go nameless for fear of being fired, said she found the campaign “demoralizing” and “kind of depressing,” and an OUR Wal-Mart organizer said she “flipped out” after seeing the photos.
"Why would a company do that?" said Vanessa Ferreira, of OUR Wal-Mart. "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."
Demonstrators in California, Florida and Illinois are demanding the store pay associates at least $25,000 per year, offer more full-time work and end “illegal retaliation” against employees who speak out against work conditions.
The National Labor Relations Board announced Monday afternoon it would prosecute Wal-Mart for firing and disciplining more than 117 workers, who could receive back pay or reinstatement to their former positions.
The demonstrations are tied to efforts to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 and similar protests by fast-food workers, and organized labor groups announced their support of Black Friday protests by Wal-Mart workers.
Lundberg suggested that activists may be misinterpreting and hyping the Canton food drive as part of its campaign, and at least one worker at the store said she agreed.
Canton associate Erica Reed said the store had been holding food drivers for several years and had helped her when she lost $500 a month in child support when the father of her four children was incarcerated.
"It took a burden off me. I didn't have to worry about how I was getting my turkey to feed them Thanksgiving dinner," Reed said, adding that it was “ignorant” to blame Wal-Mart for a difficult job market. "You can't find a decent job anywhere," she said.
But the bins serve as a powerful symbol to those who disagree with the retailer’s labor and business practices.
"That captures Wal-Mart right there," said Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University's labor school. "Wal-Mart is setting up bins because its employees don't make enough to feed themselves and their families."
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Updated to include information about the NLRB announcement.