Sometimes a news story epitomizes what is wrong with our society. Sometimes they come in double doses. Two stories in the news have drawn my attention and ire. Both need more press than they have gotten. In today’s post, I concentrate on the first outrage.
Black Friday this year turned black for an unexpected reason. No, it was not black because of the crappy economy. This Black Friday crazed shoppers at Wal-Mart’s Valley Stream store on Long Island trampled a store employee to death. A huge crowd estimated at two thousand pushed down the store’s doors at its early 5 a.m. opening time, trampling to death Jdimytai Damour, a Wal-Mart employee who had started only a week earlier. According to news reports, the door was crushed like an accordion by the weight of the crowd. Shoppers intent on snatching bargains poured through its doors, giving no thought to the man they were trampling and asphyxiating in the process. At least four others were injured in the melee, including one pregnant woman.
Wal-Mart was hardly the only retailer this Black Friday offering a limited stock of highly desired items at less than their cost. Yet, somehow if this tragic situation was fated to occur, you knew that it would happen at a Wal-Mart. After all, their motto has been “Low Prices, Always”. Clearly, employee safety is not high on their agenda, probably because it inconveniently gets in the way of profitability and lower prices. Generating excitement and sales were their top priorities and they certainly succeeded at 5 a.m. on Black Friday. A Wal-Mart spokesman called it an “unfortunate event”. Wal-Mart customers certainly indicated their feelings by their actions. They even kept shopping and hollered protests when an announcement went out over the store public address system that the store was closing because a man had been killed by their stampede. Apparently, saving money was more important than a tragic and unnecessary death unfolding around them. (Not to worry, the store only closed for a few hours. After all, profits are more important than people.)
Damour’s family is likely to sue, but I bet that within Damour’s employment contract is a provision exempting Wal-Mart from lawsuits like these. Morons obviously are not managing Wal-Mart, just heartless bastards that see retail workers as interchangeable and expendable. So Wal-Mart likely has their lawyers make sure their liability is limited even in these sorts of situations. Last that I heard, Wal-Mart was not a proactive enough company to do obvious things like put up a rope line in front of the store. Nor apparently is building reinforced doors important since that would mean, like, spending more money. However, the company is proactive enough to purchase life insurance for their employees. This life insurance though does not go to the family of deceased employees in their care, but into Wal-Mart’s coffers instead.
Pretty much everyone associated with this death should feel ashamed. Every shopper who rushed into the store, even if they did not actually trample on Damour’s body, should feel ashamed for contributing to the situation. How could they put the lust for stuff ahead of a human life?
I doubt though that anyone is feeling any shame. Chalk up one death of another interchangeable retail worker to the cost of doing business in the 21st century. The important thing is that Wal-Mart remains profitable! People with consciences, like me, figure the store manager should resign, both for not protecting this employee adequately and for not taking all steps to ensure that the crowds were controlled. Yet, the store manager reopened the store just a few hours after Damour’s death. I guess when you work for an amoral company, you are hired in part because you are amoral. Even if the store manager wanted to keep the store closed, the corporate office was probably on the phone demanding that the store reopen immediately!
Wal-Mart has pricey enough lawyers so that they will probably successfully dodge any financial judgment against them. They probably feel they suffered enough by closing the store for a couple hours on Black Friday of all days. Much more likely, Wal-Mart simply doesn’t care. The trampling to death of an employee, however regrettable, is the price someone else must pay to make sure they have “Low Prices, Always”. Consumers seem unmoved by this incident too. Nearly alone among major retailers, Wal-Mart is showing an increase in sales this holiday season.
Back in 2003, I wrote this post on the reasons why I will not shop at Wal-Mart. I disparaged not just the company for its contemptuous attitudes towards its employees, but also its customers. At the time, the post drew some heat (several nasty comments were removed) but it appears, if anything, that I did not hold its management or its customers in low enough esteem. Back in 2003, I said I would never shop in a Wal-Mart again until they treated their employees right. It looks like that date, which seemed far off even back then, has receded even further.
If there were a big box retail workers union (and god forbid Wal-Mart permit anything like that) the union should fund a national shrine to memorialize Jdimytai Damour and all the other vastly underpaid human beings who make American retail commerce possible. Damour is likely not the first martyr for the cause, but his death should be memorialized anyhow. If I had the power, I would require the monument to be in placed right in front of the main entrance. It would have huge lights shining on it. Damour’s name and date of death would be prominently inscribed with the words, “Damour died so that you could have Low Prices, Always”.
Instead, this tragic and preventable death is likely to be just a footnote. In a year or two, only a few of us cranks will even remember it at all. Meanwhile, the amoral Wal-Mart Corporation will of course be laughing all the way to the bank, its stockholders will be delighted in their weighty dividends and its customers will be thrilled at those low, low prices.