A food drive aimed at allowing Walmart employees to help each other during the holiday season is being denounced as a "moral outrage" by workers' groups.
Purple and orange bins have been placed in an employees-only area of the world's largest retailer's Atlantic Boulevard location in Canton, The Plain Dealer reports.
"Please donate food items here so associates in need can enjoy Thanksgiving dinner," a sign posted to the bins reads.
A Walmart spokesman said the collection bins are an example of how employees look out for each other, in this case, by collecting food for less fortunate co-workers.
"It is for associates who have had some hardships come up," Kory Lundberg told the Plain Dealer. "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."
But activists who have long targeted the company over its pay scale say that allowing the food drive is a backhanded admission that some of its workers are not paid enough to put food on their tables.
"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," Norma Mills, an organizer with Stand Up for Ohio, told the newspaper.
The controversy comes as stock clerks and other low-wage workers at Walmart in Cincinnati and Dayton, in the southern part of the state, were scheduled to go on strike Monday. The strikes are being held by the Organization United for Respect at Walmart. An organizer for the group said the collection bins at the Canton store help make the point that Walmart workers deserve better pay.
"Why would a company do that?" she told the newspaper. "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."
Lundberg defended the company's treatment of workers, and said it takes extra steps to help those that have financial problems. He noted that employees can also receive grants up to $1,500 via its Associates in Critical Need Trust, which can be used to address homelessness, serious medical illness and major repairs to primary vehicles. Grants totaling $80 million have been made since 2001, the newpspaper reports.