“Neither A Consumer Nor A Commodity Be.”
(Photo: Thomas Good / NY Dada)
Black Friday and the importance of having a voice on the job:
The government won’t do it. CEOs won’t do it. Only working people can build a better future
Every Thanksgiving I remind my friends and family of the deadly war waged against Native Americans in this country. This Thanksgiving, there is another war I’d like to discuss: the war being waged against retail workers.
This year I call on progressives to not only speak up for native people, but to remind our friends and family how important it is that workers have the right to organize for better conditions at work. And there’s no better time than Black Friday to have these conversations.
A CULTURE OF NEGLIGENCE
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently sent letters to 14 major retailers urging them to adopt crowd control measures this Black Friday.
It would almost sound serious if one had no idea how impotent OSHA is and how powerful the big box retailers are. Yes, I’m sure receiving a
“strongly worded letter” from OSHA has CEOs shaking in their booties!
In fact, it would be downright comical if it wasn’t for the fact that lives have literally been lost because of retailers’ utter disregard for their employees’ and customers’ safety.
Two years ago 34-year-old Jdimytai Damour, a temporary Wal-Mart maintenance worker, was trampled to death and four were injured at a Long Island Wal-Mart on Black Friday.
The bloggers and commentators used the event to lament just how crazy our consumer culture has become. While it’s tempting to comment on our frenzied consumer culture, the crowd basically did what any large crowd would do. News reports described a crowd of at least 200 people waiting outside one set of doors for the store’s 5am opening. Predictably, when the store opened, people bum rushed the entrance. And when 200+ eager customers are waiting to enter one set of doors at five o’clock in the morning on Black Friday, it’s going to be difficult, to say the least.
What’s amazing about this situation isn’t how the customers acted, but that they bore the brunt of the blame for what is gross negligence on the part of Wal-Mart. In any other situation, the company surely would have been to blame. When crowds get out of control at football games or rock concerts, the venue is immediately held to account. Where was security? Why wasn’t there better crowd control? Why weren’t safety measures properly enforced? We should expect no less of retailers expecting large crowds on Black Friday.
In May 2009, OSHA cited Wal-Mart for inappropriate crowd control and fined them $7,000. While most would argue that a life is worth much more than $7,000, apparently Wal-Mart feels that this number is TOO much! Wal-Mart is actually appealing the decision in court.
Aside from the OSHA fine, Wal-Mart cut a deal with the Nassau County DA to set up a $400,000 fund for victims, give $1.5 million to county social service programs, and implement a new safety plan at 92 of its locations. In exchange for this, Wal-Mart will not face criminal charges, and Mr. Damour’s family would have to waive their right to bring a separate civil suit against Wal-Mart if they participate in the victim’s fund. So as usual, the corporate executives shirk criminal responsibility and instead pay pennies (and yes, $2 million is pennies for a company that posted $3.44 billion net income in this year’s third quarter).