Thursday, December 04, 2008

Wal-Mart's Liability

It now appears that the confrontation between two groups of shoppers-those that waited outside on line for the store to open; and those that waited instead in the warmth of their cars- was behind the death of the Wal-Mart worker last week. As Newsday is reporting:

"A competitive, no-cutting-in-line conflict between two large groups of shoppers helped to spark the Black Friday stampede in which a Wal-Mart worker was trampled to death, Nassau police said Wednesday. Shoppers who remained inside their vehicles in the parking lot until the Valley Stream store's special 5 a.m. opening apparently clashed with people who had stood in line for hours outside Wal-Mart, police said. When the store's doors opened, the conflict between the two groups - with "a considerable amount of people" who had stayed in their vehicles rushing to enter the store without waiting in line - fostered "mob mentality," Nassau Police Lt. Kevin Smith said." A whole lot of people started getting out of their cars and made a beeline for that door," Smith said, referring to the one set of doors open to shoppers."

The worker's death will now lead to-what else?-litigation against the Walmonster for its failure to protect the safety of either its workers or its customers: "Meanwhile, an attorney for Damour's family yesterday filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Wal-Mart in state Supreme Court in the Bronx, The Associated Press reported. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Elsie Damour Phillipe, the victim's sister. In a written statement, Hank Mullany, president of Wal-Mart's Eastern Division, said the company is working to implement stronger safety measures."

Talk about closing the barn door after the horses have left! Than Mullaney comes up with this gem: "We consider Mr. Damour part of the Wal-Mart family, and are saddened by his death," Mullany said. "We have been in communication with members of his family to do what we can to help them through this difficult time. Our associates know that when incidents like this occur, we take care of our own."

"Part of the family?" Sure, just like Cinderella was. The rhetoric of family is too often used to camouflage the lack of any real substantive protection and care for employees. Workers don't need the rhetoric-they need good wages and decent benefits; and whether the company CEO feels that they are "family" is besides the point.

The liability of Wal-Mart is pretty clear here-with Nassau County's top cop doing everything possible to mitigate its own responsibility by pointing a strong finger at the company: "Mulvey said it was apparent to him that the Wal-Mart store about 20 miles east of Manhattan lacked adequate security to handle the crowds. He said police representatives met with retailers throughout the county two weeks before Thanksgiving and made it clear that security and crowd control for the sales was the merchants' responsibility."

But the county could also be responsible, since the Nassau cops had been on the scene but left. What is clear, however, is that something terrible happened: "Wal-Mart, the adjacent Green Acres Mall, a realty company that manages the property and a security company hired to patrol the property were all named as defendants..." Oh yes, Vornado Realty and Distrust is the owner of the Wal-Mart shopping center. Karma?

The real bad news here for Wal-Mart? According to the NY Post: "The lawsuit was filed yesterday in state Supreme Court in The Bronx on behalf of Elsie Damour Phillipe, the sister of victim Jdimytai Damour. Phillipe, who lives in The Bronx, is the court-appointed administrator of her brother's estate." The Bronx is home to some of the highest jury awards in the country.