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Five years ago, when Wal-Mart worker Jdimytai Damour was crushed and killed by Black Friday shoppers in Valley Stream, N.Y. (file under “vile semiotics of consumer capitalism”), the retailer was ordered to pay a minimal fine to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. While the $7,000 fine is negligible to Wal-Mart’s $466 billion annual sales income, the sum remains unpaid.
HuffPo’s Dave Jamieson highlighted Thursday how the unpaid fine, in the eyes of worker safety advocates, is about more than the money. “It’s not about the penalty,” said Celeste Monforton, a former OSHA analyst who’s now a lecturer at George Washington University. “It’s this interest in seeing how far Wal-mart can push back against the decision.” Wal-Mart has fought paying the fine in an effort reflective of the retailer’s ongoing battle against improving workers’ conditions and pay (the sort of behavior that has prompted a slew of walkouts, including notable Black Friday un-unionized strike action).
If the fine is upheld, Walmart would essentially be deemed negligent in Damour’s death, as far as OSHA is concerned. That could pressure the company — and other retailers, in theory — to invest in greater safeguards against shopping crowds in order to shield itself from liability in similar cases, meaning more staff, more planning and perhaps even more infrastructure. In other words, if it’s ultimately deemed that Walmart should have foreseen Damour’s death in 2008, then it will be much easier for the government to say Walmart should have foreseen another tragedy like it.
Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email firstname.lastname@example.org.More Natasha Lennard.