CLEVELAND, Ohio — The storage containers are attractively displayed at the Wal-Mart 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 Wal-Mart, as workers in Cincinnati and Dayton are scheduled to go on strike Monday.
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 Mills, an organizer with Stand Up for Ohio, which is active in foreclosure issues in Canton. “That Wal-Mart 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 Wal-Mart spokesman, said the food drive is proof that employees care about each other.
It’s proof that the lower end of our labor market is hopelessly broken, with full-time workers unable to make ends meet.
Wal-Mart’s profits, like those of other low-wage employers, are already subsidized with public assistance that allows their workers to get by. Studies have found that a single Wal-Mart store in Wisconsin costs taxpayers between $900,000 and $1.7 million per year in public benefits.
As I wrote recently of McDonald’s workers’ reliance on the safety net, “This isn’t how a ‘free market’ is supposed to work. These workers are selling their labor for less than the cost of production — less than what it takes to provide basics like food, shelter and health care. Low-wage employers are in turn keeping the cost of their products artificially low by socializing a chunk of their labor expenses.”