It seemed an interesting gesture for Wal-Mart to announce by television commercial that it would give any returning honorably discharged veteran a job. Given my peculiar view of good deeds, that an act isn’t truly charitable if there is a self-promotion component to it, Wal-Mart’s commercial was banal pandering. Still, it was a better advertisement than “come to Wal-Mart and meet interesting people.”
But a post by Turley’s permanent weekend guest-blogger, Mike Spindell, put a different light on the offer. While I don’t think I’ve ever been in a Wal-Mart, and frankly have neither a clue nor interest in finding out whether there is one anywhere near me to visit, I have enjoyed images of Wal-Mart shoppers from time to time, which makes me feel as if I have a connection to it. From a distance.
So Wal-Mart’s ironic attempt at concern for its employees was rather, well, shocking.
As Spindell explained:
The picture above really says it all. Walmart, our country’s largest retail operation is run by people who are so clueless that they’ve created a culture that doesn’t even understand the massive irony in running a Thanksgiving Food Pantry for its own employees. The photo comes from a Walmart in Canton, Ohio. The concept of food collections for the poor at retail establishments is widespread in America, even as many Americans deny that anyone in this country goes hungry. The irony of this food drive though is that it is asking Walmart employees, who are already low paid, to donate food to fellow employees who are even worse off than they are.
This is ironic on too many levels to count, but then, nobody ever accused the Walton family of being unduly sensitive to their employees’ needs. Had this been between Wal-Mart and its employees, that would be one thing. Volitional acts have consequences, and whether they are too severe as to require intervention, say unionization or consumer boycott, is a matter of debate.
But as Spindell notes, Wal-Mart isn’t just playing with its own money and the lives of its employees. It’s playing on the public fisc.
The average Walmart Associate makes $8.81 per hour which translates into a yearly income of $15,576 if the Associate works a full time schedule. Most Associates don’t work full time because working full time would entitle them to benefits that Walmart doesn’t want to pay. Interestingly, the current U.S. poverty level for a three person family in our country is $19,530. So we see that the rare Walmart full time employee, with two dependents, earns about $4,000 per year below the nation’s poverty level. Indeed, Walmart has made it a practice to inform its employees about benefits like Snap and Public Assistance.
That last sentence caught my attention. Part of Wal-Mart’s “employee benefit” program is to point toward public assistance?
Here is an insider’s view on the specific Walmart situation in Ohio, from an Ohio State Representative:
“A recent study concluded of all the companies in Ohio, Wal-Mart has the highest number of employees on public assistance. Of the 50,000 Wal-Mart employees and dependents, almost 13,000 are on food stamps, and 15,000 on Medicaid. What part of the American dream can the employees of this giant “welfare queen” expect?
My issue isn’t that employees are on food stamps or Medicaid. If they need it, that’s what it’s there for. But Wal-Mart is free-riding off public assistance to supplement its salary structure? Our tax dollars are used to subsidize Wal-Mart’s wage structure for the benefit of the Waltons’ business?
While an argument can be made that we all benefit from the existence of cut-rate stores like Wal-Mart, where we can purchase items inexpensively, and the taxpayer gets a return on his investment in the Walton fortune, it’s a disingenuous argument. It requires us to shop at Wal-Mart and thus further enrich the Waltons, who may be selling things cheap but not at a loss. Sam Walton may be a swell guy, but if I’m going to give him my money, I would much prefer it be my choice.
Yet, Wal-Mart has that television commercial that shows its colors, red, white and blue. And we patriotic Americans may hate or love our wars, but never blame our soldiers for doing their duty. That’s a good thing, and so we are naturally inclined to feel warmly toward those who provide them with help and support in their transition back.
But when seen through the prism of Wal-Mart’s freeloading, the warm and fuzzy feeling of the Waltons’ generosity of offering to put American veterans on welfare doesn’t seem nearly as kindly as Sam’s self-promotional charity first appears.
It’s long been well known that Wal-Mart’s employment practices haven’t served to place its employees in middle class security. That was the giveback for cheap prices. That’s economics. Something has to give. But when the economics of Wal-Mart is bolstered by transfer payments, that’s a problem.
Keep your hands out of my pockets, Sam. If you’re going to falsely promote yourself as charitable, do it on your own dime.