Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Wal-Mart Worker's Needless Demise

The official verdict is now in on the death of a Wal-Mart worker on Black Friday-the poor man was asphyxiated when he was trampled to death by an out-of-control mob of shoppers. As the NY Daily News reports: "The Wal-Mart worker killed in a Black Friday stampede died of asphyxiation after being trampled by frenzied shoppers, an autopsy revealed Monday.
Jdimytai Damour, 34, of Queens, was crushed in the vestibule of the huge store when 2,000 frenzied bargain hunters surged forward, Nassau County Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey said. "He was in fact trampled to death in the most unfortunate way," Mulvey said."

In our view-admittedly not the most unbiased since we have been stymieing the Walmonster at every turn-the death of Mr. Damour dramatizes just why, as the UFCW and the RWDSU have been fighting and organizing for, the workers at Wal-Mart stores desperately need to have their rights protected. It's not only about wages and benefits when it comes to fighting for the rights of workers at the world's largest retailer.

In other cases around the country, we have seen how Wal-Mart has exhibited little concern for the health and safety of either its employees or its customers-sometimes locking them into the store all night in the guise of store security: "Wal-Mart admitted they have no company-wide written policy on store security for the general public or for its parking lots relating to “third-party criminal attacks” (Rosalinda Fernandez vs. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Deposition of Dave Gorman, March 26th, 1998)."

The company's lax attitude towards safety and crime is one of the most compelling reasons why the Monsey community rejected the Walmonster earlier this year when it looked to open a supercenter in that Rockland community. And the incident in Nassau County underscores the company's cavalier attitude towards safety-something that officials such as Nassau County Police Commissioner Mulvey are recognizing: "Mulvey called security lapses at the store a "recipe for disaster." "There was not enough security, proper security," Mulvey said. Authorities said it is unlikely that any shoppers will be charged, but were looking into potential liability on the store's part. Cops had met with Wal-Mart and mall officials before Black Friday and offered suggestions to enhance security. Mulvey said the store failed to erect barricades or implement other measures that could have held back the surging crowd."

As the NY post points out, there was a lot going on in the parking lot prior to the stampede-another indication that the store doesn't pay attention to what goes on right outside its doors: "In another development, a 14-year-old girl said yesterday she was punched in the face and knocked to the ground at the Wal-Mart about an hour before the stampede, when she tried to calm a woman who got upset because people in the crowd bumped into her. Alicia Sgro said the woman punched her and her aunt in the face. "I fell down, she pulled my hair and pulled me up by my hair," the teen said. She said her arm and nose were broken when she fell."

So let the litigation begin-and the lawyers are lining up to not only sue the store, but Nassau County as well. As Newsday points out: "The news came the same day Hempstead residents Fritz Mesadieu, 51, and his son Jonathan, 19, filed a notice of claim against Nassau and its police department, as well as a separate negligence suit against Wal-Mart.The Mesadieus' lawyer,
Kenneth Mollins, of Melville, said the father and son were among those caught up in the shopping surge. They sustained neck and back injuries from being lifted off their feet and slammed into people and objects, Mollins said. According to the Mesadieus, who arrived outside of the Wal-Mart about an hour before the doors opened at 5 a.m., Nassau police were on site before the stampede, but did nothing and quickly left - even as unrest grew among the crowd."It was clearly foreseeable, but police either didn't see it, or saw it and didn't care and left anyway," Mollins said."

Ultimately, however, the responsibility lies with the company that is making billions of dollars with its allure of low prices. We've always highlighted (and Congressman Miller has documented) just how misleading this allure can be-and the high costs that Wal-Mart dumps on communities where it looks to land. The trampling death is just the most dramatic example of a sordid record.

So while electeds will look to jump on this issue-and Councilman Jim Gennaro has already leaped forward here-the real protection for Wal-Mart workers, and those at other big box stores, lies with unionization. The simple fact is that unorganized workers are vulnerable, and their health and safety takes a back seat to corporate profits.