Charity or justice: What is needed for Walmart employees?
Cleveland.com reported this week about a Walmart in Canton, Ohio that is collecting food for its employees who won’t be able to afford a holiday meal this Thanksgiving. In an employees-only area of the store, big orange and purple bins are marked with a sign reading: Please Donate Food Items Here, so Associates in Need Can Enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner.
Said Kory Lundberg, a spokesperson for Walmart: “It is for associates who have had some hardships come up. 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.”
There’s certainly nothing wrong with employees helping each other out in times of need. But the action can be interpreted differently at a company that is notorious for its poor treatment of workers.
According to the Cleveland.com report, the national average Walmart hourly wage is $12.87, though this figure is disputed by groups such as OUR Walmart. Those who work at least 34 hours are considered full-time. An average full-time employee who works 37 to 38 hours a week would earn about $25,000 per year. One associate from the Canton store, however, says that due to cuts in hours, despite being considered a full-time employee, she only earned about $17,000 last year.
The conversation is reminiscent of debates within the church and across the nation about charity versus justice as the way to provide assistance to those who need it. While no one is going to argue that Walmart (or the church, for that matter) should do away with a charity effort to help out those in need, it seems equally as important to consider the structural issues (such as providing a just, living wage) to allow all to live and work with dignity.