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WalMart’s Bad Weekend And Worse Monday

It is any retailer’s nightmare to be shut over a holiday weekend, but the WalMart in Arbutus, Maryland, ended up closed down with a hazmat team on premises on Saturday.

It all started when two women got into a fight just after 10:30 a.m. At 10:48, the Baltimore County Police arrived at the store, quickly followed by firefighters, a hazmat team, 10 EMTs and multiple ambulances. The women’s fight had deteriorated into throwing bleach and disinfectant at each other with less than accurate aim. A total of 19 people were treated for exposure to the chemicals themselves and the toxic fumes. One was taken to the Wilmer Eye Institute at John Hopkins Hospital for potentially severe eye injury, and three WalMart employees are being treated for respiratory problems.

Though the reports do no state the specifics of the fight, since bleach and most cleaning products are packaged in plastic which might split on impact with a hard surface, it must be assumed that the women were opening the bottles and hurling the contents.

Theresa Monique Jefferson, 33, turned herself in to authorities. She had followed another woman into the store to confront her about a man. He fathered Jefferson’s child but is the boyfriend of the other woman. Jefferson has been charged with first-degree assault, second-degree assault, theft under $100 (presumably for the contents of the bleach and disinfectants) and malicious destruction of property. Bail has been set at $350,000. There was no report as to the care of Jefferson’s child or children.

WalMart closed the store for several hours to clean and ventilate it, issuing a statement that said, “this is obviously not the type of behavior we would expect from people at our stores. We apologize for any inconvenience this caused to our customers.”

That’s just the beginning of it, really. The store was closed during a three-day holiday weekend, and a Saturday – both high earners for WalMart. The closure will impact the store’s sales figures. A year from now, a computer will say that the store doesn’t need as many employees on site on the first Saturday in October because of this year’s sales figures. The employees who are receiving hospital care, unless they are management, have no health insurance through WalMart. The company restricts employee’s hours-per-week to avoid providing benefits. Unless those employees have health insurance through a spouse or partner, they are about to be hit with hundreds, if not a thousand dollars or more of medical bills. They could be facing long-term medical costs if the respiratory damage is severe enough. Not only will they lose pay by not being able to work, they will be stuck with the bills. To avoid having an impact on their workmen’s compensation costs, WalMart can make the case that these people made a choice to intervene in the fight and caused their own injuries. How WalMart handles the medical care costs of their own employees and any injured customers will be worth watching.

Then, on Monday, WalMart was forced by the Chinese government to close several stores in the city of Chongqing and pay $421,000 in fines for mislabeling tons of pork as “organic.” WalMart has 10 stores and 2 affiliates in the city of 32 million, and state media says all 12 were closed.

China is having problems enforcing food safety laws with much of the problem occurring in small stores and markets. It is the new large chains that are getting all the media attention. WalMart is accused of mislabeling 14.4 tons of non-organic pork products. The fine is equal to ten times the value of the pork that was sold. The company issued a statement, vowing that “WalMart is committed to protecting the rights of consumers and will spare no efforts n this regard.” Nonetheless, the company has been repeated cited for food safety and labeling violations since beginning operations there in 2006. The relationship between WalMart and China is a complex one, with the entire WalMart empire being China’s third (may be second by now) largest customer for manufactured goods and WalMart being one of the largest Western companies allowed to do business inside China. WalMart has a total of 284 outlets in over 100 Chinese cities. Some were local retail chains bought out by the retailer. WalMart is the world’s largest retail empire infesting every continent except Antarctica. The massive discounts they are able to bargain from suppliers cuts their prices to the point where local stores cannot compete and fold because of loss of business. The WalMart “Superstore” with groceries has forced the closure of supermarkets in some communities.

China has had an economic explosion in the past twenty years, and now is trying to rein in the consequences that such an explosion creates – the health crisis caused by unchecked industrial pollution, the corruption, the shortcuts that companies take to reduce costs, the failure to meet important standards like removal of lead-based paints from children’s toys and the proper labeling and handling of food. They have also started to have problems with people demanding higher wages and better working conditions. Taxi drivers recently staged a strike for better fares. At the rate China is going, pretty soon it will not be the “regulation free zone” and “cheap labor zone” that has been attracting manufacturers for two decades.

Which is, seriously, the best thing that could happen to America. When the rest of the world’s population decides they are tired of being exploited, abused and killed by unregulated businesses, the playing field for jobs will balance out. Eventually, slave labor chooses not be enslaved.

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  1. Pingback: RetailWire Discussion: Walmart Closing Down Marketside Test « Meyers Research Center: THE BLOG