12:22 PM Eastern - Thursday, May 28, 2009

Wal-Mart Responsible for Black Friday Trampling Death

walmart-guilty_sm.pngHow much is a worker's life worth? Answer: $7,000

Remember back in November of last year when we told you the tragic story of Jdimytai Damour, a 34-year-old temporary worker at a Long Island Wal-mart who was crushed to death by a mob of shoppers storming the store for Black Friday deals?

The employee was "stepped on by hundreds of people" as other workers attempted to fight their way through the crowd, [Nassau County police Detective Lt. Michael] Fleming said.

"Several minutes" passed before others were able to clear space around the man and attempt to render aid. Police arrived, and "as they were giving first aid, those police officers were also jostled and pushed," he said.

"Shoppers ... were on a full-out run into the store," he said.

Well, yesterday OSHA announced the results of their investigation into the incident -- and their findings confirm that the tragedy was entirely preventable:
OSHA's inspection found that the store's employees were exposed to being crushed by the crowd due to the store's failure to implement reasonable and effective crowd management principles. This failure includes providing employees with the necessary training and tools to safely manage the large crowd of shoppers.
Mr. Damour's death, in other words, was no accident. It was not a freak occurrence nobody could have foreseen. It was predictable, given Wal-Mart's failure to take appropriate measures to deal with the near-riot situation their marketing department had whipped up.

So what's the punishment for shocking corporate negligence that results in the death of a worker? OSHA hit them with the maximum fine allowable by law -- $7,000.

That's right. Seven thousand dollars.

OSHA has issued Wal-Mart one serious citation under its general duty clause for exposing workers to the recognized hazard of being crushed by the crowd. The citation carries a proposed fine of $7,000, the maximum penalty amount for a serious violation allowed under the law. OSHA issues serious citations when death or serious physical harm is likely to result from hazards about which the employer knew or should have known.
A man is dead. Wal-Mart could have -- should have -- prevented it. And their punishment is a paltry $7,000 fine.

Mr. Damour's case is not the only one where corporate negligence that resulted in a worker's death was punished with a slap on the wrist. Last month, Rebecca Foster told the House Education and Labor Committee about the death of her son Jeremy, who was killed in 2004 at the age of nineteen when a piece of machinery at his place of work -- modified in violation of OSHA safety rules -- caught his shirt and strangled him to death:

How much was Deltic Timber, the company responsible for that death fined? $2,250:

When we received our copy of the OSHA report we were not surprised to see the notation of the company's actions being at fault for the fatality. But we were appalled to see the amount of the fine: $4,500. Surely this was an error. Shortly afterwards we read in our state newspaper that the amount had been reduced to only $2,250. Did they place a value of our only son's life at this amount? It was as if OSHA had patted Deltic Timber on the back and said "Good job guys. You only killed one person."
President Barack Obama has brought in a new team at the Department of Labor that is committed to ensuring that every worker has a safe workplace. But they can only do as much as they are empowered to do by the law. And the laws that govern worker protection on the job are shockingly toothless.

Congress has the opportunity to fix this. The Protecting America's Workers Act is legislation currently before the House of Representatives that would strengthen a range of protections for workers on the job -- including raising the minimum fine in cases like Damour's to $20,000, with a potential maximum of $50,000. And that means companies like Wal-Mart will be more likely to give their workers the health and safety protections they deserve.

You can help pass this important legislation by urging your Representative to support the Protecting America's Workers Act.

It's too late to save the lives of Jdimytai Damour or Jeremy Foster. But it's not too late to ensure that the laws provide appropriate punishments for corporations whose reckless indifference to the safety of their workers results in lost lives and broken families. So take action and tell your Representative to act today.

Blog post and image originally published at CtW Connect, courtesy of Jason Lefkowitz.

Spread the word

Comments about Wal-Mart Responsible for Black Friday Trampling Death are welcome. Off-topic comments and other violations of our community guidelines may be withheld or removed. Comments do not appear immediately after posting.
blog comments powered by Disqus