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Dying For Dollars

There are jobs that people take on, like becoming a police officer, firefighter or soldier, where you know there’s a good chance you could die while at work. You know this. Everyone knows this.

That’s why there are fund raisers for the families of those who have lost husbands and wives in shootings, fires fights or in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were doing dangerous work that saves and protects people. You could say you can never pay someone enough for that.

Then there are the jobs that aren’t worth dying over — for anyone. Your minimum wage, “not my problem” jobs. Horrible, sometimes hard, sometimes mundane jobs that happen to many people at some point in their lives. There are no benefits. The hours can be brutal. But you need the cash for yourself or your families, so you put up with it. And if someone ever put a gun in your face for the register you give them the cash because — seriously — you’re not dying for $7 an hour.

But the reality is many people working low paying service jobs do find themselves, unwillingly, in the line of fire and some do wind up dying for simply showing up at work that day. And it is in these tales of ordinary people who get killed working mundane jobs where you learn why and how corporations, and people serviced by them, get their reputations as being cold, soulless entities.

Take the case of Taneka Talley.

In March of 2006 she was stocking shelves at a Dollar Tree in Fairfield, Calif. when a man came into the store and shot and killed her. According to California law, businesses have to pay death benefits to the families of people who lose their lives while on the job, with an exception for employees killed by individuals they have a “personal” relationship with, i.e. spouses who kill their husbands or wives at work. But Dollar Tree contested paying Talley’s 11-year-old son death benefits because Talley is black and was killed by a white man who said he was looking to kill a black person that day.

He just happened to choose Talley.

In the eyes of the lawyers for Dollar Tree and their insurance company, that counted as a “personal relationship.” That act of extreme racism that lead to murder was tantamount to an abusive spouse executing their not-so-loved one. Now facing a boycott, a court case that they stand a good chance at losing and some extremely ugly press, Dollar Tree is offering to pay the full benefits.

Of course they are. It only took them two years.

In a statement Monday, Dollar Tree said it was acting voluntarily because “we feel this is the right thing to do.” But a lawyer for Talley’s mother and guardian of her 11-year-old son said the company was clearly responding to the public anger that followed news coverage of the case.

“I think they would like this to be done with,” attorney Moira Stagliano said. “The media helped settle this claim.”

Stagliano said she’s optimistic about resolving the case but isn’t there yet. “What they have offered is not quite the full value,” and negotiations are continuing, she said. (San Franscico Chronicle)

Then we have the more recent tragedy of Jdimytai Damour, the temporary worker trampled to death on “Black Friday” at a Long Island Wal-Mart.

The store was set to open early at 5 a.m. but not early enough for the shoppers who smashed the glass doors and ran right over Damour to get their discounted Nintendo Wiis and digital cameras.

His death was so profound for Wal-Mart that they had to close for a few hours, but somehow were able to put the grief aside and … those brave little soldiers … reopen the store when Damour’s body wasn’t even cold earlier that same afternoon. Who knows if the other employees working that day even got to grieve in those few hours the store was closed. Never mind the fact that some shoppers refused to stop shopping as Damour’s body remained on the floor. Even when the cops asked them to leave they were indignant. They’d been waiting outside all night, after all, and needed to buy their cheap crap. Who cares if someone died in their pursuit of manufactured bliss? He was just a temporary worker with family and friends who loved him and affectionately called him “Jimbo” for short.

Obviously not human.

Or at least not deserving of any dignity and humanity in death. Not when the game of death for dollars is being played in America. Four other shoppers, including a pregnant woman, were also injured in the melee.

Damour’s family is now suing Wal-Mart because … well, who can blame them? They obviously weren’t prepared to handle the 2,000 person mob that spelled Damour’s demise. Many believe he was placed at the door because he was so big and tall (Damour was 6-foot-5 and weighed 270 pounds), and that his death was a combination of “mob mentality,” poor crowd control and Wal-Mart’s low, low prices.

(Terry) Hemeyer, who also teaches marketing, public relations and advertising at the University of Texas at Austin, places the onus on retailers to prevent such accidents. He said that throughout history, consumers have been attacking each other to get sale items that are in short supply, even when people are lined up waiting for the doors to open.

Hemeyer, who made a point not to attack Wal-Mart, said if store managers don’t understand the “herd mentality,” then they are not doing their jobs.

“In other words,” he said, “if you do something that the doors open at 8 and that’s when the sales start and it’s a limited supply, I think that’s a formula for a problem because everybody has to be there at the same time.” (Houston Chronicle)

Pictures of Damour, a 34-year-old Jamaican, were rarely seen as this story was reported on in the press. Even online it’s hard to find an article about him. Most stories focus on Wal-Mart or whether our society is decaying because people are dying for cheap Chine
se-made goods at big box retailers. But people have always died working retail. It doesn’t happen often, but ask anyone who works at a gas station, liquor store, late night diner or fast food restaurant or 7-11 how they feel about their safety and you’ll know that you don’t have to be a police officer to face death at work.

I just hope Wal-Mart, which doesn’t have the best record on this, does the right thing in Damour’s case. If not out of the goodness of the heart I know Wal-Mart doesn’t have, out of the the good PR they would get in a time where Wal-Mart is blamed for pretty much ever evil in our society. It’s true he was a temporary worker, but he died for their dollars.

Let them know why they should care.

To contact Dollar Tree, click here.
To contact Wal-Mart, click here.

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21 thoughts on “Dying For Dollars

  1. anonymous 2:42 p.m.: The New York Times and another newspaper had him down as Jamaican. Can you send me a link to a story or item that says he’s Haitian. I want it to be correct, I just heard otherwise.

  2. I used to work at a 24Hour gym right of the freeway when I was in college in Cali. Because I was new they made me work the first graveyard shift (11-2am) at the front desk a few nights a week. No one else would be in the building besides little old me, the (extremely buff and creepy)nocturnal gym rats and one maintenance guy. When I told my manager I didn’t feel safe working by myself at night she said I should quit. Many retailers don’t think about their employee’s safety until after a tragedy…and settlement money doesn’t bring folk’s loved ones back. Great post.

  3. angela: That’s the real issue at play here. Many businesses DON’T care about protecting their employees. They already don’t/won’t/can’t pay a decent wage. They’re trying to keep costs low. So if that means you get stuck working in an unsafe environment that’s what happens. And they know there will always be someone who needs the job, who needs the money, therefore they can capitalize on that need and save cash on things like “health care” or “workplace safety.” That’s why I doubt Wal-Mart will come to some civilized deal with Damour’s family. They only care about saving money. I’m sure to work there he had to sign off on some BS that they can use to say they don’t have to do a thing. He was a temp, after all. That will be their cold-hearted logic, much like Dollar Tree’s deadly racism = “personal relationship.”Bastards. They’re all bastards.raina: You have no idea how hard it was to find that one photo of Damour. I think the NYT was the only paper to run a picture and a personal story on the man.

  4. SA says:

    Great post Snob. It’s so sad and sickening what society as a whole has become. Dollar Tree should be ASHAMED of themselves for what they have done. I have no idea if Damour’s family have a case against Wal-Mart, but I hope that this tragedy make them rethink some of their “Black Friday” policies and add some extra security or hire some temp people to control the crowd next year. A man shouldn’t die so people can shop.

  5. Thank you for shedding light to this issue. I began boycotting Wal-mart abtou 2 1/2 years ago after seeing “Wal-mart, the high cost of low prices”. Well, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back after hearing many testimonials first hand, as well as various media coverage on Wal Mart’s wrongdoings. I haven’t missed it, and it really hasn’t even been much of a sacrifice.This was the first that I’d heard of Taneka Talley’s case. It’s atrocious…

  6. I bet Walmart will say it’s not their issue because he was technically employed by the temp agency.I think companies should stop with this Black Friday BS. really. Thanks for posting about this. My heart goes out to the families.

  7. RIP Mr. Damour. Next year and every year after this one, it should be a requirement that all department stores post warnings to shoppers to shop at their own risk because shopping at their stores may be detrimental to their health. Severe injury or death may occur!

  8. Yes, Thank you so much- I worked at a 7-11 type store. My manager was 18- she got promoted because she was held hostage for hours in the store by two guys that escaped from prison. Hospitals- social work home visits- there are a lot of hard working people doing a lot of dangerous jobs.

  9. starrie says:

    horrible stories..i too hadn’t heard of the dollar tree story until now…dispicable how these companies just don’t care about their employees or their safety…years ago i worked the graveyard shift at a circle k in phoenix…a customer came in with his gun hanging out of pocket and basically warned me he was coming back to shoot the place up…turns out the white lady manager would talk long crap to customers all day and get them riled up…and when i had a problem and called this manager should be “scared” to come out at night and see what’s up…i took that dude’s words as serious business and never went back after that…that same circle k has had several shootings and a murder as recent as 3 years ago…

  10. I ditto the previous comments and thank you for bringing this important case to our attention.Honestly, I didn't realize that most stores have their own death compensation policies, and that these policies make an exception for domestic violence cases, which of course Taneeka Talley is NOT! Taneeka's is a racial hatred or bias crime. Her family is probably eligible for Workman's Compensation, but only after the store insurance claim is settled.With a good lawyer she should win, since clearly this is a bias crime, a killing of a random person because of their race.Was Taneka's killer ever caught? Was he convicted of committing a bias crime?If not, Taneka's family may have to settle for Workman's Compensation. You can add to your list of senseless on the job killings, the case of bus driver EDWIN THOMAS, who was stabbed in New York last week, because he refused to give a transfer to a crazy person, with insufficient fare. The crazy person was already on parole for another attempted murder!It is well known that California's jails are also bursting at the seams!Good reporting, Danielle, ================By the way, did you or your readers see the movie VERY YOUNG GIRLS, on Showtime Thursday night? You might say it is about 14 and 15 year old girls, many of whom are are raped. beaten and even killed on their "job."You can still watch this tastefully made, & award winning documentary on Showtime, "on demand," through 12/28.http://www.gems-girls.org/girlsarenotforsale.html

  11. Anonymous says:

    Thank you, TBS, for posting this. This incident outraged me so much, and yet there didn’t seem to be much uproar about it in popular media, or even in the blogosphere. I guess that’s because it happens all the time, like you said. But I thought it would cause at least a little outcry, since it happened around Christmas, and people can be sentimental about Christmas.I think it’s criminal that WalMart and every other big store allows those crowds to build up on Black Friday. Isn’t that sort of ‘reckless endangerment’? WalMart ought to be brought up on charges for this, and Black Friday mobs be outlawed forever. If only… (I wrote a short rant on my LJ if you’re interested; http://imelda72.livejournal.com/115871.html)

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