Walmart Still Hasn’t Paid Its Fine From the 2008 Black Friday Trampling Death
Nov 29 2013
Jdimytai Damour via CBS
Walmart received a $7,000 fine from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 2008 after a Long Island store’s annual orchestrated stampede got too intense and one of its employees got killed. Since then, they have devoted 4,700 hours of legal work to not paying that fine. Because to do so would be to admit that they did something wrong.
After all, what did they do wrong? All they did was mark some highly-sought-after items down to discount prices and offer them to consumers two months into a global economic collapse. Then they encouraged shoppers to wait outside their store by a sign that said “Blitz Line Starts Here,” all while the store manager “rested” in a hotel, according to The New Yorker. They also brought in an extra staff of just two people specifically to work security, one of whom was assigned to watch the door, while the other one safeguarded the merchandise.
Did those actions contribute to what happened next (PDF)? Namely: Does all that preparation mean Walmart could have known that it was possible for over a thousand people to show up, and start jumping barriers and clashing with cops? Walmart didn’t strike any agreements with local law enforcement, who took a this-is-your-problem approach to crowd control and beat it when the time was nearing to open the flood gate. It was assistant manager, Mike Sicuranza’s decision, not corporate’s, to place the biggest, burliest non-security employees front and center when the doors broke open in order to help stampeding customers up when they inevitably fell down.
So when one of those non-security employees, Jdimytai Damour, a Haitian immigrant who had been working there for a week, tried to do his job, and got his windpipe crushed by the crowd, his death was clearly the crowd’s fault, or the fault of Damour himself maybe, not Walmart
That's Walmart’s take. Every dollar they’ve spent in this matter has come with the caveat that it means they don’t have to admit fault. They did pay $400,000 to employees who were injured, or, to their families in the event that the injuries were fatal. But those $400,000 and the $1.5 million foundation they set up were all given out in exchange for not being blamed. They have also paid their lawyers (assuming a $90/hour average) $423,000 to make sure they don’t admit fault.
The $7,000 fine from OSHA comes with an admission of fault, and possibly even requirements that company policies be changed, but that doesn’t make paying it optional. Every judge who has evaluated this case has upheld the teeny little fine, which is the largest fine OSHA can levy unless the corporation was doing something malicious. So what would be the big deal if Walmart lost its final appeal, which might happen as early as next year, and had to admit fault?
It wouldn’t spell the end of Black Friday as we know it. This mythical construct in American culture is weirdly resilient. Every year it’s turned by maudlin leftists into something like a national day of mourning. If International Buy Nothing Day strikes you as sane and practical, check out BlackFridayDeathCount.com. Meanwhile, the mainstream media treats it as something more or less sacred, and the inevitable horrifying stampede footage is just a darkly funny sidenote.
In a story from Black Friday last year about two people being shot in a Walmart parking lot, the anchors on ABC News chuckled and thank their field reporter for “risking life and limb,” by being in stores. In this totally essential Wall Street Journal video about how retailers plan their markdowns in advance so that you’re never actually getting a bargain, the anchor behind the desk signs off by saying: “Well, I’ll still be doing the Black Friday sprint.” Why the fuck would you still do that? Did you not just hear the other lady tell you you’re being used?
No, Black Friday would still exist, but Walmart, where 6 out of 10 Black Friday injuries occur, would have to change its policies. For instance, they’d have to move their doorbuster markdowns so that they go into effect the evening of Thanksgiving, when the store is already open. They would also need to do something like make sure their inventory included enough of the high-demand items to make certain, or even guarantee, that customers who got there within the first hour would actually get the item they came for. That way maniacs won’t arm themselves with guns and grenades to keep other customers away, as happened in 2010.
Oh wait, they’ve already done that. This year, Black Friday bargains went into effect at dinner time on Thanksgiving (Fuck you, employees!), and they’ve introduced the “1-Hour In Stock Guarantee,” on the really in-demand items. They’ve looked into their policies from before, seen what they were doing to endanger people, and revised them. They just won’t say they’re sorry.
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