Walmart’s Big Bottle Blowup

Walmart Tom Smith rally 11-27-15Bright and early on Black Friday, I was outside the Walmart in East Greenbush soaking up sunshine, but I wasn’t there to shop. No, I was at a rally in support of Thomas Smith, who lost his job for turning in empty soda bottles for refunds. The Times Union’s Paul Grondahl broke the story on November 19th, and the Washington Post ran a follow-up article two days later. Now it’s gone viral—I’ve even found articles in the British and German press.

Walmart Tom Smith rally Alice green & Walmart execs 11-28-15Smith’s take for the empty bottles? A grand total of $2.10, according to the store’s managers, but they later upped the total to—horror of horrors—over $5.00. He had served over 13 years in prison for an attempted bank robbery in 2002 and was on parole when he was hired by Walmart at the end of August. He made $9.00 per hour rounding up shopping carts and picking up trash in the parking lot. On the Sunday of the great bottle heist, he walked two hours from the halfway house in Albany where he lived to get to the store for a shift starting at 8:00am. (The managers had refused to change the start time although he told him no buses were available that time on Sundays.)

Walmart later claimed they could not reinstate Smith because he had failed to disclose his prior felony conviction during the job application process, a fact he denies. “We believe he has told the truth from the beginning,” activist Alice Green was quoted as saying in Saturday’s Times Union. “His story has never changed. Only Walmart’s story keeps changing. In all our discussions with Walmart, they never raised the issue of not disclosing his conviction before. We will continue to support and fight for him.”

About 50 demonstrators showed up on Friday morning, including people from labor and religious groups and the NAACP. I learned of the rally through an e-mail from Emily McNeill, a staff member of the Labor-Religion Coalition, who said the protest was not only about Thomas Smith but about Walmart’s mistreatment of low-wage workers in general. I’ve participated in many demonstrations over the years, but this one struck a particular chord because of Thomas Smith’s personal story.

Although I hung in as a creative arts therapist at a psychiatric center long enough to earn a New York State pension and ran a licensed home care agency for nearly a decade, I’ve been fired from a few jobs, generally because of behavior related to bipolar disorder, both before and after I was diagnosed. (As a clerical temp at Regeneron, the pharmaceutical company in East Greenbush, I went from designing Power Point presentations to deciding I should run the company, which didn’t go over too well.)

So I know how much being fired hurts. Whether there’s justification or not, it wreaks havoc with your self-esteem. Deep down, I always knew I could land another job, and now that I’m on Social Security and Medicare, I’ll never have to again, so I can be as flaky as I please. In cases like Thomas Smith’s, it may not be so easy. Because of all the publicity and the people standing up for him, as well as the personable, articulate personality he displayed on Black Friday morning, he’ll probably find work—I’m sure Target would love to have him. But there are millions of others who won’t be so lucky.

I was one of the more than 2,000 people who signed a petition demanding that Walmart pay Smith’s back wages, rehire him and apologize by Monday, November 30th. Otherwise, local groups are calling for a national boycott of Walmart stores.

I can’t promise to swear off Walmart forever, but at least for this holiday season, I can take my business to Target and other stores that treat their employees with respect and dignity—if I can find out which ones they are.

Where do you stand on this issue? I’d love to hear from you.

Christmas shopping-frenzy checkout

 

 

How the bottom line rules what you see on TV

 Francis SJ Shattered Lies coverToday I’m delighted to welcome my first guest blogger in several years, and I hope to have many more in the months ahead. S.J. Francis found my contact information on the Sisters in Crime website and asked if I’d be interested in a guest post promoting Shattered Lies, their new book.* I said I’d be delighted, especially since this author has extensive experience in the television industry. Hope Dawns Eternal, my vampire soap opera thriller, is set at a major TV network, and I’m constantly trolling for new information on the behind-the-scenes world of television. Here’s what they* sent me:

The TV Industry is a Fickle Business

When Julie asked me to write about something in the TV industry, I immediately thought, why? Even though I worked in several areas in television in different positions, from an intern to an executive producer, from network TV to community TV, I couldn’t think why someone would want to read a post about it. When I worked in television in the dark ages, TV shows were mostly scripted shows, which called for all industry professionals. TV was like that for a long time. Now TV consists of some scripted shows and a great deal of what is called, “reality TV”, which utilize mostly ordinary people and industry professionals. Eventually, reality TV will go to the wayside, when the public gets tired of it and the networks aren’t making any money from it. That’s just the way the industry is.

The TV industry is a fickle business. As with any other business, money keeps the momentum going. When the profits slow down, the networks change things, sometimes drastically. As the saying goes, when the going gets tough, the tough gets going. What may work for five years may not work for the next five years.  A lot of people go into daytime television for the security, stability and normal schedule. However, even daytime TV is not really that secure. Up until a few years ago, daytime television consisted mainly of talk shows and soap operas. That is until the networks decided to terminate soap operas in favor of more talk shows. I never saw so many talk shows on television before. Soap operas unfortunately were not able to compete with the growing popularity of reality TV.

During the 1990’s there were twelve daytime soap operas on the air, fluctuating between nine and eleven until the 2006 to 2007 seasons. The number of soaps started declining to just eight during the next season and then just seven during the 2009 to 2010 season. One of my favorites, Guiding Light, was a casualty of this new scheme in television. After seventy two seasons on the air, on both radio and television, this soap came to an end in September 2009. Other victims of this new scourge were ABC’s long running All My Children and One Life to Live.

As anyone involved in the TV industry can attest, working in television, whether as a performer, an executive, or a crew member is not for the faint of heart. There is no real security. It’s a high pressure, dog eat dog world. Stress is a constant. Deadlines and pressure is a never ending force. Politics play a huge role. Anger someone, put their nose out of joint and you’re out of a job, out of the game, and out of the industry.

At present, just four soap operas remain on network television. The Young and the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful, Days of Our Lives and another favorite of mine, General Hospital, are the remaining survivors from the cut to soaps, but even now, these soaps are still in a precarious situation.  Television is a changeable industry.  More so than any other industry. Soaps are on the decline due to ratings. They’re also no longer money makers. Reality TV is where the money is at. Ratings and money run everything. When money talks, and ratings decline, soap operas lose out and go by the wayside. How many shows have you seen come and go? I definitely don’t miss the stress of it all.

S.J. Francis

S.J. Francis

S.J. Francis is a freelance writer with over three hundred publication credits, a University Lecturer with doctorates in English, Mass Communications and Law, and most recently, a novelist. Francis writes for many publications, as well as regularly contributing to the local newspaper. Francis’ background also encompasses working as a television producer.

A frequent traveler, Francis has resided in thirteen states and three countries. A confirmed bibliophile, when not writing, Francis can be found reading a good book, or spending time in the outdoors. Francis currently lives in Mississippi, where a major part of Shattered Lies takes place—but grew up in New York City, where the latter portion occurs—and has a great respect and fondness for both places, and considers the world a notebook full of endless ideas. Francis’ first novel, Shattered Lies, is a women’s fiction/mainstream/family saga novel. As in all the stories Francis writes, in the end, it’s all about family. Future projects include a sequel to Shattered Lies and a novel about the dynamic relationships in Hollywood. Shattered Lies was just released this October by Black Opal Books.

Visit S.J. Francis at http://www.sjfranciswriter.com or http://sjfranciswriter.blogspot.com

S.J. sent the author photo posted here, and I asked if there was one that actually showed the author’s face. I got this reply:

Ah- another question about my author badge. Basically, Julie, I’ve been writing anonymously for years now. Mostly, because I don’t feel it’s important to know my identity. If someone likes my stories and articles I write, does it really matter what sex I am, or race? For me, it doesn’t. It’s all about the writing and the reader connecting with it. Besides a little mystery never hurt anyone.  It keeps life interesting, don’t you agree? 

An intriguing answer, but one I find hard to fathom. I crave recognition for my work, and that includes letting the world know who I am in hopes of having my ego stroked. I realize many authors use pen names, but this degree of anonymity is rare. The topic is worth a blog post of its own.

*S.J.’s answer forced me to resort to the words “they” and “their” to refer to a singular subject. I pride myself on my grammatical skills, and I can picture my high school English teachers, Miss Fuller and Mrs. Hadley, writhing in their graves. But I recently read a column by a syndicated grammarian saying that this usage has become acceptable. We need better alternatives, but he/she and all those weird new words like xer are even worse. Any suggestions, folks?