Nominations must have opened early for the AFL-CIO’s Bad Boss awards, as It looks like there’s a clear winner already.
Dollar Tree are a discount store in the US, like our Poundland. Single mum Taneka Talley worked there, doing long shifts to save up for college fees for her 8 year old son Larry. Then one day in March 2006, a local man Tommy Thompson woke up and decided to murder a black person, the first he saw. Calling in by chance at Dollar Tree, he saw Talley and stabbed her to death.
It’s a horrible story, but made unbelievably worse by the subsequent actions of the employer and their insurers. Talley had been paying into the company insurance policy, which has a death-in-service clause. However, the employer refused to pay out, claiming that the fact the murder was racially motivated meant that there was a pre-existing ‘connection’ between Talley and Thompson, invalidating the insurance.
Talley’s mum, Carol Frazier, has spent the past two and a half years bringing the decision to court. The company offered her a $5,000 payment as settlement, rather than the $400,000 payment Talley had been entitled to, and which Frazier sees as Larry’s college fund from his mum.
Discount stores by their very nature are going to be places where decent work is harder to find – every penny needs shaving off costs, and staff suffer as a result. In the UK though, shop workers’ union USDAW have managed to secure recognition for workers at Poundland at least, and some great new reps there are keeping membership at good levels, helping strengthen the hand of the staff in bargaining in such a difficult climate, as well as making sure the union’s groundbreaking Freedom From Fear campaign is represented there.
USDAW have found in the UK that one in ten shopworkers faces physical assault at some time in their working life. They’re on the front line between angry customers, robbers and nutters like Thompson, and the business, which can be a very dangerous place. They’d not be putting themselves into this danger if it weren’t for their job.
Talley would have lost her job if she’d not been there when Thompson came into the store, so it’s outrageous of Dollar Tree to try to wriggle out of their responsibility – and disgusting that an employer can in effect say she did not count because she was black. Had the murder not been claimed to be racially motivated, the company would not have even tried this insulting defence.
Anyway, if you’re as appalled by this case as I am, and you fancy dropping Dollar Tree a line about this, you can find their customer services contact page here.