In defense of Walmart… no, honestly


The following essay was produced as part of my 2013 effort for the November National Novel Writing Month effort. As such, please understand that while I did give it a quick review, it has not gone through the same proofreading and editing I normally try to give all of the material posted on this site.

I always make some mistakes. There are errors to be found throughout this web site, and many exist despite dozens of attempts to correct problems. That said, ask that you approach this material in the spirit intended – a basic thought, slightly worked out and very informally researched, delivered in the hopes of writing more than 50,000 words by the end of November.

Thank you.

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This is a tough one… because I don’t have all of the facts. And yet… that is exactly the point… because I don’t believe that in this situation Ashton Kutcher or any of the other critics of Walmart have all the facts either.

First up… background details and such… head out and read these:

How poor is poor? Ashton Kutcher, Walmart face off on Twitter

Walmart defends food drive to help employees

Now, let’s set some things straight right now…

I am not defending Walmart and what they pay their employees.

Different subject.

I am not defending Walmart in the arena of whether or not they dominate communities to the point of driving small businesses out of existence.

Different subject.

Like many issues, the business practices of Walmart, the staff of Walmart and their wages, and the place of Walmart in the marketplace are complicated. It is definitely not something simple -- “You should only sell items made in America”… “Your company made a profit, and that should be given to the employees” -- that answers these questions or addresses these concerns.

Yes, for one response to such thoughts, I am aware of court cases and fines and more involving issues like overtime pay at Walmart.

But, when I began reading the articles and critiques about a fundraiser organized by Walmart employees to benefit Walmart employees, I found myself… for lack of a better word… sickened by how quickly the situation was picked up by those that wave swords at the Walmart windmill, with no apparent thought given to why the fundraiser might be taking place.

I understand there are reasons… as there may be for just about any business… to be critical of Walmart. In this case though, it seemed to me that these critics had picked up the fundraiser story and tried to define it to fit their own purposes without a care as to what it truly represented.

So let’s see if we can establish some facts.

Item number one, which no one disputes, some employees of a Walmart store held a food drive for other employees -- A store in Canton, Ohio, held its fourth annual food drive for employees. It was themed as being dedicated to support associates in need.

And… frankly… that’s about the end of the facts.

It begins and ends with both sides acknowledging there was a fundraiser.

Why? Why is that the end of the facts?

Because after that, the stories go all over the place.

Allow me a bit of thought… from personal experience… to see if we can develop some possible context for this situation by leaving this specific debate for a moment.

One of the places I worked at over the years had an assistance fund for staff members. It was designed to help out during the extreme circumstances that are never easy for a person or a family to face -- fires… loss of a loved one… unexpected illness… and so on. And, at the risk of trying to summarize and characterize them… extreme circumstances that are not the responsibility of or fault of the employer.

These are life circumstances. Heavy items that pretty much we all in some form face, but none of us would ever place into a schedule or a plan.

The people running this effort where I worked held food drives (maintaining a pantry) along with fundraisers.

It was these efforts that came to my mind as I read about Ashton and company unloading on Walmart and the pay rates they offer. The critics hammered away at poverty lines and pay rates and on and on.

But here’s a question… what does Walmart owe its employees? And before you answer… before you point to overtime pay, medical benefits, and other issues… let me steer you toward these concepts for consideration…

Should a company rebuild a house after a fire and replace an employee’s possessions? In other words, if a house or an apartment building is lost in a fire and that results in someone from their staff losing the physical home and belongings (or, even worse, multiple people from their staff), is it Walmart’s responsibility to find them a new place to live, replace their furniture, and restock their fridge?

If an employee passes up on insurance options, such as temporary disability concepts (like long and short term coverage beyond company coverage), and then gets hurt at home and cannot work, is it the employer’s responsibility to continue to pay them when they are not working? In other words, if an employee is at home, on their day off, and climbs a ladder to clean the gutters, falls, and breaks a leg, is it Walmart’s responsibility to pay them their salary over weeks of recovery even though the employee never worked during that time?

What I’m getting at is simple… is this a round hole and a square peg situation? Are people so lined up and ready to blame Walmart for anything that they are jumping up and down on the concept:

“Walmart employees hold fundraiser for co-workers…”

That they don’t care about the possible realities that created the concept:

“…that have experienced fill-in-the-blank.” (The loss of a loved one… a personal illness… etc.)

Most of the articles I’m reading don’t say. They all seem to speak about assisting to create a family Thanksgiving for staff in need. I haven’t seen many that even hint at why those families are in need.

A Walmart spokesperson is quoted as suggesting what I am outlining though. Get this…

“Buchanan said it’s not unusual for store associates to launch fund-raising efforts or other activities, including bake sales, raffles and food drives, to help fellow employees who face financial hardships, especially after dealing with illness or death, or devastation after natural disasters. Employees also can apply for assistance of up to $1,500 from the retailer’s Associates in Critical Need Trust, an $80 million fund established to make donations to employees.”

So it at least seems possible that we have a scenario where employees are getting together to help out their co-workers during what a few moments ago I suggested could be extreme circumstances. And, it appears that Walmart is allowing for them to do so at a Walmart location, and in some ways contributes monies of their own to help out.

Now… here’s a funny thought… what if the company banned such activities?

I mean, take a look… Walmart is getting decked by Ashton Kutcher and Organization United for Respect and more. Is it so farfetched to think that the publicity being generated might frustrate them as a company?

And if the bake sales and food drives stop… does that mean people won’t get hurt at home or lose a family member?

In the beginning I told you… I am not defending Walmart on all fronts. But I do believe that it’s important to understand what you’re talking about before you begin to negatively paint a picture.

In this particular case… given my experience with places I’ve worked… it is not unusual for employees to need assistance. And when the company helps out that’s fantastic, not something to attack.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at