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The Dangerous Side of Retail Work

Remembering the Wendy’s Massacre

by DANIEL GROSS

This Sunday marks the eighth anniversary of what has come to be known as the Wendy’s Massacre.  On that fateful day, workers at one of the hamburger chain’s locations in Queens were busy closing down the store – wiping down counters, emptying the trash, and all the rest to prepare for the next day. 

Retail workers know that closing the store can be a dangerous part of the job.  It’s often late at night, no customers are around, and workers may be counting money.  In addition to wanting to get home, security concerns are why retail workers can get a little bit edgy around closing time.  The possibility of violent crime is why retail workers don’t open the door after closing for a passerby pleading to use the restroom.

Just after closing time was when John Taylor, a former employee of the Wendy’s restaurant, chose to strike.  Taylor, who was joined by an accomplice, knocked at the locked front door of the restaurant and called out for the store manager whom he knew by name. The manager subsequently went to the basement with one of the assailants.  The rest is tragic, gruesome history.

The Wendy’s night crew was lured to the basement, bound and gagged, and shot at point-blank range inside the walk-in refrigerator.  Four of the workers, Anita C. Smith, Ramon Nazario, Jeremy Mele, and Ali Ibadat were killed.  The night manager, Jean Dumel Auguste, was also killed.  Two workers, Jaquione Johnson and Patrick Castro, were shot in the head and face, respectively, and left for dead.  They miraculously survived.

The families mourned and the city mourned with them.  The mother of one of the victims sued Wendy’s for being negligent in its security precautions.

As chilling and heart wrenching as the Wendy’s tragedy was, it does not stand alone.  In 2000, the year of the Massacre, there were three mass fast food killings in the United States leaving 14 workers dead.

John Taylor himself was a serial armed robber of fast food chains going back to 1996; he hit five restaurants the year before the Massacre including McDonald’s and Burger King.

Retail work can be deadly.  351 retail workers in the United States suffered fatal injuries on the job in 2006, according to government statistics.  By contrast, 190 workers died in the mining industry that year, the year of the horrific tragedy at the Sago Mine.  138 of the retail worker deaths were by homicide.

In December of last year, the nation was transfixed as details emerged of a shooter entering an Omaha mall and opening fire with an assault rifle.  Six of the fallen were department store employees.  One of the surviving employees attempted to explain her grief.  She was quoted in a news report sharing, “In retail, co-workers become a family of sorts because of the long hours spent at work.”

The 19-year-old murderer dressed in camouflage had recently been cut loose from his job at McDonald’s.  He ended the rampage by turning the weapon on himself.  It was the second massacre at a U.S. mall that year.

This year, Wendy’s has seen another high-profile mass shooting, this time at a Florida location which left a paramedic dead and four others injured.  The day before, two Wendy’s employees in Illinois were robbed at gunpoint and forced into a freezer by two masked men.  The day after the shooting spree in Florida, a drive-through employee at a California Wendy’s was confronted by a robber with a gun.  Earlier this month, Wendy’s workers in Delaware were victims of an attempted robbery – at closing time.  The list could go on and on. 

The other chains are no different: just try logging on to a news search engine and typing “robbery” and “the name of a fast food chain”.

Retail work is undervalued and under-respected in our society thanks in large part to the global retail corporations.  They use lobbying and slick public relations to block initiatives which would improve the standing of retail workers such as legislative reform to help workers achieve an independent voice on the job with a labor union. 

The threat of violence is but one of the many, many reasons why retail workers deserve greater respect and recognition.  In mourning the victims of the Wendy’s Massacre and all retail worker victims, I hope we are mindful of the danger of workplace violence which while often obscured from our customer experience is a very real part of workers’ daily lives.

DANIEL GROSS is the founding director of Brandworkers International, a non-profit organization protecting and advancing the rights of retail and food employees across the supply chain.  A former retail worker, he is an active member of the Industrial Workers of the World.  Daniel is co-author with Staughton Lynd of the revised and expanded Labor Law for the Rank and Filer: Building Solidarity While Staying Clear of the Law, forthcoming from PM Press in the Fall.  He can be reached through http://www.Brandworkers.org.

 

 

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