Ohio Wal-Mart Conducts Thanksgiving Food Drive For Its Workers

Employees at a northeast Ohio Wal-Mart are collecting food for needy coworkers' Thanksgiving dinners. The effort has been portrayed as a sign that Wal-Mart unfairly exploits workers. Others see it simply as people helping people.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Here in the United States, Wal-Mart is trying to play down accusations that it underpays its staff. An effort by employees at an Ohio Wal-Mart to collect food for fellow workers' Thanksgiving dinners has gone viral - and not in a good way.

M.L. Schultze, from member station WKSU, reports some see the food drive simply as people helping people.

M.L. SCHULTZE, BYLINE: The sign appears above plastic bins in the employee work area of the Canton Wal-Mart: Please donate food items here so associates in need can enjoy Thanksgiving dinner.

That image went public this week on the Our Wal-Mart Facebook page, which is part of the effort to unionize workers at some of the world's 11,000 Wal-Marts.

Norma Mills is a community organizer pressing for what she calls a living wage in Canton. She drives through one of the three low-income housing projects within a half-mile of the Wal-Mart.

NORMA MILLS: What I saw was an opportunity for Wal-Mart to make it appear they're doing good for their employees, when actually they're exploiting them. Where would those employees likely buy their product from? Wal-Mart. So Wal-Mart is in a win-win situation.

SCHULTZE: But Tammy Seiler, the shift manager at the Canton Wal-Mart, insists the whole effort that's drawn such withering criticism sprang from associates worried about unexpected problems befalling fellow workers.

TAMMY SEILER: If your neighbor's house burned down, you give them clothes, you help them out. This is just the same thing. If your friend's husband lost their job, and they're having trouble scraping together the food to feed their family, you give them food so their kids don't starve.

SCHULTZE: She says a lot of the employees are outraged at the criticism.

SEILER: Wal-Mart's a big company and we have a big target on our back. So when this story came out, it's just something for somebody else to jump on the bandwagon and say, Wal-Mart is not paying enough to their associates, which I definitely do not believe.

SCHULTZE: But others don't share that conviction. Within hours of the Wal-Mart photo appearing, the president of Canton City Council cited it in calling for the city to raise its minimum wage above Ohio's $7.85 an hour.

For NPR, I'm M.L. Schultze in Canton, Ohio.

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