Monday, December 01, 2008

Wal-Mart: Bad For Worker Health & Safety

The Alliance has, along with the UFCW, led the fight against Wal-Mart in the New York region. Over the past five years, we have stymied the Walmonster in Rego Park, Tottenville, Flushing and Monsey. In the process of making all of these successful site fights, we have emphasized the fact that there are a whole host of reasons for not wanting a Wal-Mart in your neighborhood-traffic, impact on small business, transiency and crime; and, of course, the company's abysmal record on worker rights.

In articulating these arguments, one issue has often risen to the fore-Wal-Mart's poor record on the health and safety of its workers; something that Speaker Quinn has emphasized in her righteous and forceful opposition to the retail giant in New York City. Nothing, however, could have prepared us for what happened on Black Friday: the death of a Wal-Mart worker in the store's opening crush of shoppers; something that the Post headlined appropriately, "Hell-Mart."

As the NY Times reported:

"By 4:55, with no police officers in sight, the crowd of more than 2,000 had become a rabble, and could be held back no longer. Fists banged and shoulders pressed on the sliding-glass double doors, which bowed in with the weight of the assault. Six to 10 workers inside tried to push back, but it was hopeless. Suddenly, witnesses and the police said, the doors shattered, and the shrieking mob surged through in a blind rush for holiday bargains. One worker, Jdimytai Damour, 34, was thrown back onto the black linoleum tiles and trampled in the stampede that streamed over and around him. Others who had stood alongside Mr. Damour trying to hold the doors were also hurled back and run over, witnesses said."

There's no excuse, of course, for the rampaging fools who stampeded into the store. But where was the safety protection for Wal-mart's workers and customers alike? As Bruce Both, the president of the UFCW's Local 1500 told the Times: "Where were the safety barriers?” said Bruce Both, the union president. “Where was security? How did store management not see dangerous numbers of customers barreling down on the store in such an unsafe manner? This is not just tragic; it rises to a level of blatant irresponsibility by Wal-Mart.”

And as the Times goes on to point out: "Wal-Mart has successfully resisted unionization of its employees. New York State’s largest grocery union, Local 1500 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, called the death of Mr. Damour “avoidable” and demanded investigations."

The tragic death of Mr. Damour epitomizes Wal-Mart's callous disregard of its workers, not only doesn't provide adequate health care for its employees, it is unable to protect them on the job; and all of this underscores why the store needs to have an extreme labor makeover before it can come into NYC as a good corporate citizen.

The event on Black Friday dramatizes what we have always said characterizes the Walmonster: "The high cost of low prices." The company needs to change; and the first step is to change how the company treats the health and safety of its workers.