Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Immigrants & Teens: Frontline Soldiers in the War Against Retail Crime?

As a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics study reported, workplace violence is the leading cause of death among immigrant workers in this country. Many of these workers are employed in retail establishments. And, of course, the issue of retail violence is not just limited to immigrant workers. Small articles in newspapers across the country bear witness to this fact:
Man stabbed to death in restaurant robbery
By Franci Richardson
Saturday, May 22, 2004

A 35-year-old Worcester man is dead after interrupting a restaurant robbery where the thief put a knife against another man's throat and demanded cash, police said.

Valtair Silva was stabbed in the chest by a man trying to rob the restaurant Ciao Bella, where he was an after-hours cleaning man. Silva was pronounced dead at Worcester Medical Center about 12:10 a.m. yesterday.
And also in Boston, there was this:
A dream lost to violence
Slain teenager recalled as friendly, hard worker

By John Ellement and Michael Rosenwald, Globe Staff, 2/18/2000

Cristian Ribeiro Giambrone was on the cusp of a dream. The 18-year-old had banked $5,000, not for a new flat-screen television or video game system, but to pay for an important trip to his mother's native Brazil.

A student at Boston Latin Academy, one of the city's exam schools, Ribeiro Giambrone amassed his savings working part-time at a CVS store in Boston's Longwood neighborhood, the heart of the city's thriving medical community.

Ribeiro Giambrone was working on Monday, Presidents' Day, banking more holiday cash for his trip, when CVS employees became suspicious of a man in a red puffy jacket and dark hat. Police said that employees, including Ribeiro Giambrone, confronted the man outside, but that he attacked them, stabbing Ribeiro Giambrone in the neck and another employee in the torso.

Ribeiro Giambrone died. The search for his killer continued last night.
Gambrone's mother,Taciana Ribeiro Saab, is not not just mourning for her son, she is also fighting:
Her last gift to him is a campaign to stiffen workplace rules in retail establishments all across the state so that employees do not feel pressure - explicit or implicit - to pursue shoplifters. Her goal is to persuade businesses to hire security guards, to adopt policies that prohibit employees from confronting shoplifters, and to better train the young people who increasingly man the front lines of retail.


Since Cristian's death, Saab has undertaken her own informal survey of workplace policies. When she goes shopping at a hardware store, she will ask the clerk: "If I had just shoplifted, what would you do?" But the larger question she is determined to answer through her activism, even as she battles the grief that still reduces her to tears at a moment's notice, is this: "How can we use his death as a catalyst for positive social change in the workplace?"
Saab is speaking in schools and neighborhood forums about workplace safety as a volunteer for Project COBWEB (Collaboration for Better Work Environment for Brazilians in Massachusetts).
C. Eduardo Siqueira, a research assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell who is spearheading the project, says that while its aim is to educate and train young Brazilian immigrants working in restaurants or fast-food chains and other industries on how to avoid occupational hazards, it will reach out to retail workers of all ethnic groups.
Siqueira has organized a campaign led by teenagers to collect anecdotes about other kids who may have been exposed to violence in retail workplaces. Four Brazilian teenagers and other immigrant students are working with the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCosh) to train teenagers over the summer about health and safety issues, and afterwards become peer-trainers and youth leaders.

They're advocating for better education and awareness about the causes and solutions for workplace violence, paying particular attention to corporate policies on chasing shoplifters. CVS is the main target.. In addition, they are building a popular theater group this year to improve the awareness of Brazilians about health and safety on the job.

For more information on this project, contact Dr. Siqueira.

Footnote: This issue has become personally relevant to me lately. My daughter works at a popular store in Georgetown where one of her responsibilities is to monitor the front door for shoplifters and keep them in the store until a manager arrives. My wife and I visited the store last week and in the 45 mintues we were in the store, the teen employees confronted at least three shoplifters as they left the store.