Thanksgiving traditionally starts the holiday season, a time when people feel compelled to give to those who are less fortunate than themselves. Wal-Mart, though, seems to be taking the concept to a whole different level.
According to CNNMoney and several other news outlets, a Wal-Mart store in Ohio has launched a holiday canned food drive for its own workers. A sign placed in the employee lounge reads, “Please donate food items so associates in need can enjoy Thanksgiving dinner.”
Emily Jane Fox of CNNMoney reports that fewer than half of the company’s employees earn more than $25,000 per year. “The food drive,” Fox writes, “plays into claims that Wal-Mart does not pay its workers a living wage.”
For most of Peter Drucker’s career, the lot and wage of the American worker was on the upswing—something no longer true today. Even then, however, Drucker was concerned about the status of those on the lower rungs.
“We can only deny social status and function to the economically unsuccessful if we are convinced that lack of economic success is (a) always a man’s own fault, and (b) a reliable indication of his worthlessness as a human personality and as a citizen,” Drucker wrote in Concept of the Corporation. “It is perhaps the biggest job of the modern corporation as the representative institution of industrial society to find a synthesis between justice and dignity, between equality of opportunities and social status and function.”
Within that question of dignity was the contentious question of how much a worker needs to make—in short, how much of a profit share should go to the employee. When a worker perceives his wage as too small in proportion to the company’s wealth, Drucker noted in The New Society, “he sees himself not just ‘exploited’; he sees his right and dignity as a person denied by the primacy of profitability.”
As Drucker explained in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, the twin concerns involved with wage setting are “living” for the worker and “cost” for the employer. As a “living,” a wage needs to cover the daily necessities of an employee and his or her family. As a “cost,” Drucker wrote, a “wage needs to be appropriate to the productivity of a given employment or industry. . . . It needs to make a product or service competitive. It is determined, in the last result, by the consumer, that is, without regard to the needs or expectations of the worker.”
Ultimately, Drucker added, it is a “conflict which cannot easily be resolved and can at best be assuaged.”
What do you think? Has Wal-Mart struck the right balance between “living” for the worker and “cost” to the company?