Walmart and McDonald’s Humbug Season

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November 27, 2013 in Labor & Economy

On the face of it, a report that Walmart has yet to cough up the $7,000 fine it owes the government over an infamous 2008 Black Friday tragedy should be shocking. In fact, Walmart is not simply behind in its payment, it is actively fighting the fine. The incident in question took place when Jdimytai Damour, a store employee at a Long Island Walmart, died during a shopper stampede – a literal “doorbuster” – during which hundreds of people poured through the store’s unhinged glass doors before the dawn of the morning after Thanksgiving.

“Should be shocking,” because somehow we’ve become so used to hearing about the retail giant’s outlandish and dangerous obsession with profits that such news doesn’t surprise many people. Writing in the Huffington Post, Dave Jamieson noted:

For a company with sales of $466 billion last fiscal year, the $7,000 fine from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration represents little more than a single store’s rounding error. Walmart would have vastly outspent that sum simply in legal fees devoted to fighting the penalty. But the world’s largest retailer is less concerned with the monetary fine than with the broader implications of the case. A negative ruling could compel Walmart and other retail companies like it to take additional safety precautions for workers or face new liabilities.

Besides being among the lowest legally paid workers in the United States, the 1.4 million Walmart employees represent one percent of the country’s entire work force. This figure makes Walmart workers the largest sector of a new class of American serfs. Their extreme low wages, shrinking hours and unpredictable work schedules place them in a realm of modern Dickensian misery. But they are hardly alone because, as Josh Eidelson recently revealed in a Salon piece, McDonald’s recognizes its own fast-food serfs are so bad off that is has set up a “McResources” website that offers practical tips on how its workers can stay healthy and stretch their $7.25-per-hour wages. The employees-only site recommends, among other things:

  • Break your food into pieces. If you take smaller bites you’ll probably eat less.
  • Chewing gum can reduce cortisol levels by 16 percent.
  • Singing along to your favorite songs can lower your blood pressure.

You can’t make this stuff up. Perhaps the best (or the worst?), we suppose, is another example from the same McResources site, this one quoted by Gothamist writer Nell Casey:

  • Sell your unopened Christmas presents and other possessions on eBay or Craigslist.

And to think, McDonald’s isn’t even charging their workers for this advice. Talk about enforcing the holiday spirit – from a company that gives Scrooge a good name. (See Low Pay Is Not OK’s video riff, above, on these and other McResources nuggets.)

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