Management at a Cleveland branch of Walmart, America's largest food chain, sparked a fierce debate over whether employee compensation is too low after a food drive was started at the branch to make sure the neediest of the store's workers had enough to eat for Thanksgiving.
"Please Donate Food Items Here, so Associates in Need Can Enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner," note signs attached to tablecloths at the branch along Atlantic Boulevard in Canton, according to cleveland.com.
As word spread about the store's initiative, however, some people didn't appreciate the message Walmart was sending.
Canton resident, Norma Mills, who lives near the store and works as an organizer with Stand Up for Ohio, said when she first saw a photo of the notice seeking food for needy workers she experienced "outrage" and "anger."
"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. "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."
Walmart spokesman Kory Lundberg explained, however, that the food drive is simply a demonstration of how Walmart workers care about each other.
"It is for associates who have had some hardships come up," said Lundberg. "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."
He said while the food drive was a decision made at the store level, the initiative was well in line with company policy. He explained that Walmart employees fund The Associates in Critical Need Trust via payroll deductions and can access grants up to $1,500 through it to address difficulties like homelessness, serious illness and automotive repairs. They have paid out some $80 million in grants since 2001.
Vanessa Ferreira, an Organization United for Respect at Walmart, took umbrage to the food drive and said the company could serve workers better by simply paying them a living wage.
"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."