Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Trampling of Jdimytai Damour/Corporate Callousness 2.0

Friday, Nov. 28, 2008

(The following story is based on a true event.)

It was a cold, cold New York morning. Jdimytai Damour's belly was still full from yesterday's Thanksgiving Dinner, and his insides had been quite disagreeable since he had woken up that morning for work, for the dreaded Black Friday shift. Damour rubbed a chunk of sleep still glued to his eye, the 2:00 AM din of the alarm clock robbing him of any hopeful feelings about the next few hours to come. The 34 year-old left his apartment in Jamaica, Queens, and boarded the Long Island train, still groggy from the lack of sleep and abundance of food breaking down in his belly. Jdimytai still considered himself young and full of life, and not even an early-morning 12-hour shift could stop him. He'd have plenty of cash to blow after the next check came through, and that kept his spirits up.

Damour, the temporary maintenance worker, had been instructed to arrive at 3:00 AM in anticipation for the 5 AM opening, and stand just inside the door of the Wal-Mart supercenter where he worked to maintain the crowds that were expected to swarm the place for doorbuster deals on plasma screen TVs, video game systems and personal computers. First come, first served. There was a handwritten sign by the entrance clearly marked "BLITZ LINE STARTS HERE." Wooden barricades accompanied Damour at the front.

Damour watched scads of cars fill the parking lot not long after his own arrival. Shoppers clad in thick layers briskly rubbed their hands together, their breath rising in clouds, preparing to wait for hours in the fierce cold of the pre-dawn Long Island November to spend their hard-earned dough on the shiny gadgets that lie inside waiting, marked down for the lucky few who made it there first.

The shoppers got antsy as more of them showed up. The line had started to grow disordely, and Damour nervously chewed his lip, observing his watch as he observed the rapidly increasing crowd, whose patience seemed to dissipate proportionally to the increase of its number.

4:25. Still more than a half hour to go. The Valley Stream Wal-Mart told Damour that the doors would open exactly at 5:00 sharp, and that he would be the one to usher crowds inside. He was, however, but one man. Other security had been hired to stand by, but that didn't ease the growing fear settling in his gut. The handwritten sign and barricades had since been rendered meaningless; the once-orderly line had now turned into a sea of people slowly budging closer to Damour, who firmly held his hands out in front of him.

"Hey pal, how much longer are we gonna have to wait?" One customer angrily shouted through the glass.
"Let us in! It's cold!" Said another.
"Move outta the way!" Another yelled.

The crowd had now swelled to about 2,000 people. The sign was now on the ground, lying under the feet of the pissed-off shoppers. The cold coming through the glass was no longer an issue for Damour; his blood ran hot, and sweat beaded his forehead from the proximity of the crowd, the unsettling ache of his bowels, combined with a slight delirium from a lack of sleep.

"Just wait," Damour yelled out to the shoppers in front. "The store opens at 5. Please be calm, we'll be opening shortly."

Damour's watch read 4:47 AM. Still far too early for anyone to be up on a holiday, yet the Wal-Mart parking lot was full. Cars buzzed by on the road nearby, undoubtedly heading out to grab early bird deals at other stores hoping to capitalize on the Black Friday rush. All the gloom and doom over the recent economic collapses had really caused the media to amp up "Black Friday" into a holiday of its own, business owners eager to get shoppers inside the stores and keep them there until their holiday bonuses were nestled in the cash registers. Damour's manager had told him that he'd be needed until probably 4 or 5 that day, and to expect more 12-hour shifts as Christmas loomed closer.

It was 4:54 AM now, and the crowd had morphed into a mob. Shoppers no longer cared about the words they used in front of children, or about bumping into and elbowing one another. The doorbuster deals were a straight line to the back of the store in the Electronics department, and shoppers looked prepared to fight one another to be first in line to get a $20 discount on the big screen TV. Still the mob pushed and shoved and elbowed and swore. Other employees, notiving the havoc that was escalating outside, had joined Damour and formed a human chain in front of the stoor entrance.


Then, two things happened, almost simultaneously, just before 5 AM.

Damour saw the glass pane in front of him start to bend in the middle from the force of the crowd. He pushed to get it to stay upright, but the glass had bent back too far.

The door burst off its hinges. Damour fell helplessly backward, and the mob pushed on. They no longer noticed the man in the hooded sweatshirt and gloves and blue vest serving as the last barricade between them and the deals that lie beyond the glass. As Damour fell, hordes of boots and sneakers fell upon him, compounded with the weight of the shoppers who wore them. There was nowhere else but the shoppers to go but forward. Shoes continued to pound and squash Damour into the hard tile floor, bloodying his face, breaking his bones, pulverizing his insides as shoppers leapt over one another and on top of the man who lay helplessly on the floor, buried under the feet and weight of thousands.

The doorbusters had been picked up almost as soon as Damour met his swift death. Customers squabbled with each other, punching and shoving those who had made it to the first deals on the shelf. Emergency crews were rushed in to perform CPR on Damour, but even they were not immune to the consumer-hungry rage of the mob still pouring in from the dark, cold New York morning. Even four other shoppers couldn't escape injury from the ensuing mayhem, including a 28 year-old woman eight months pregnant.

Not more than 45 minutes after Damour was trampled, the manager's voice instructed shoppers on the intercom that a worker was killed, that they would have to leave.

"Aw, man! I've been in line since 4 this morning!" One shopper yelled in protest.

The Wal-Mart would re-open that day at 1 PM, and shoppers filled the building within minutes. Damour would not be there this time to help guard the door.

The discounted gifts that customers endured for hours in the cold just for a few bucks off sticker price, like a $798 Samsung 50-inch Plasma HDTV, a Bissel Compact Upright Vacuum for $28 and Men's Wrangler Tough Jeans for $8 would eventually be wrapped and placed under trees, and would be torn apart and opened to excited screams and shouts on a Christmas morning that 34 year-old Jdimytai Damour would never see. A morning that his 41 year-old sister Danielle would spend quietly without him, weeping uncontrollably with other grieving family members like 37 year-old cousin Ernst, instead.

Corporate Callousness 2.0

The Occupational Safety and Health Act was enacted by Congress in 1970 in the event that if something happened like the event above, there would be some accountability. OSHA has the authority to levy penalties to companies who knowingly put their workers in hazardous situations. Such regulations meant to ensure corporations consider the safety of their employees as the highest priority, even above profits.

29 U.S.C. § 654, 5(a)1: "Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees."

But thanks to decades of the corporate special interest lobbying that has been polluting congress relentlessly, and even much moreso since the Reagan Revolution, these corporations are now only responsible for a mere $7,000 pittance if a "foreseeable death" occurs. The penalty for a "willful death" is $70,000. One Wal-Mart store makes about $250,000 per day. That's a conservative estimate.

However, Wal-Mart, in the ultimate act of corporate defiance of laws, has spent $2 MILLION fighting OSHA's $7,000 fine for a Wal-Mart worker dying on the clock. That's $2,000,000. Spent to not pay a $7,000 fine for something they knew could very possibly happen. They claim that OSHA doesn't have the constitutional authority to levy penalties against private corporations. Which is complete nonsense, as corporate accountability for wrongdoing to workers is precisely why OSHA was created. But OSHA's legal department has complained that Wal-Mart, with its infinite resources and money, is draining OSHA's resources to the point that a full third of their legal department is dedicating all of their time to try and get Wal-Mart to follow the law.

Clearly, this isn't about money. This is Wal-Mart waging a war of attrition against the federal government, in an ultimate effort to discourage them in the future from pursuing large corporations and holding them accountable when they put lives at risk for the sake of profit. Wal-Mart, a company that let a worker die while working for them, is challenging the federal government for having the audacity to make them pay for their callousness.

If this isn't enough to get people to stop giving Wal-Mart their money, I don't know what is.

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