First up today reporting from me on a beloved record store chain abruptly firing its entire staff in one location on Friday, possibly because of impending labor organizing efforts among workers. Then down below Jack Crosbie of Discourse Blog weighs in on the repugnant effort in South Carolina to reinstate capital punishment by firing squad. (Please consider subscribing over there with this 25% off coupon. They are doing great work.)
You may have missed this brutal dispatch from India I sent out to paid-subscribers earlier in the week by Saib Bilaval.
“The personal news keeps coming in over texts or announcements online. There’s no longer any time to mourn people individually. Death has to be processed in groups. One can barely begin to cope with news of one loss before news of the next arrives. It doesn’t stop. Throughout all this I haven’t had the courage to reach out to those I know who lost someone yet. I still don’t have it. What could I say that they don’t already know?”
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I also recently re-published this piece of mine (it’s good!) I wrote back on the occasion of Chris Cornell’s death.
Ok here’s the thing.
UPDATE 6/11/21: Bull Moose has released a new statement addressing their actions.
“The response isn’t everything that we wanted and what they’re doing feels very bare minimum, but we have advocated strongly for increased wages and a change in leadership around Bull Moose, so I am glad that we were able to get those things for the company as a whole,” Kam Brooksmoore, who I spoke too earlier for the story below told me.
“They are going to be giving everyone, regardless if we go back or not, backpay for the last two and a half weeks, although they have already messed this up and underpaid or overpaid many of us, and increasing wages starting the 14th, going up to $13 an hour. Many of us have decided to go back so that we are able to change more of Bull Moose from the inside and hold them more accountable to their promises, and also push them to give more for their employees.”
Here’s the original piece:
On Friday afternoon the entire staff of the Bull Moose store in Salem, New Hampshire received an email that they were being terminated immediately. The surprise firing of the store’s roughly twenty employees came after those working the night before had been sent home early following a series of one on one meetings with management. In those meetings and elsewhere staff had expressed concerns over an abrupt decision by the popular Maine and New Hampshire music chain (whose CFO Chris Brown is one of the creators of Record Store Day) to stop requiring mask usage for customers. They also brought up issues with other working conditions including instances of abuse from customers, understaffing, and more.
Four of the fired employees I spoke to believe that it’s possible the shuttering of the store was an attempt to nip any steps taken toward organization in the bud before they went too far.
“We’ve talked about unionizing, but never gone through with it because of the fear of everyone getting canned,” Kam Brooksmoore, who’s worked there for two years, told me. “Recently we were planning on going on strike for the new mask mandate if they didn’t repeal it. Also to talk about our unfair wages, the customers, and how management have brushed all our concerns aside for years.”
Among some of the abuse employees have gotten from customers, which only got worse during Covid, was Brooksmoore being threatened by one brandishing a gun. The customer had become irate when asked to wear a mask. Brooksmoore was given an extra $40 in his paycheck to make up for the experience he said.
While they can’t say for sure management was aware of their intentions for a brief work stoppage on Monday, the timing is curious.
“It was maybe an hour after we started talking about walking out that everything happened on Thursday night,” Callie Gonsalves said.
Not everyone was on board with the idea as of yet. Some were concerned about what it could mean for their livelihoods, said Andrew Bove, who’s worked there since November of last year.
“Regardless of opinion, people who were there that day and were not vocal whatsoever were fired. People who were not there that day were fired. People who had not been into work that week and didn’t know that the policy was changing let alone have an opinion on it were fired,” he said.
“That doesn’t matter now because they wiped out the whole fucking store.”
“I think one of the managers may have overheard or got wind of it,” Zachary Willwerth, another employee of two years told me. “From what I've gathered from the company this has been an issue in the past. When talks start to happen, even if it’s not about a union, but a collective body of people, by us for us, I think that they get really scared of that.”
“We understand the CDC has said it’s safe,” he added about their trepidation over loosening mask requirements, “but the staff isn’t fully vaccinated yet. And we have a history of customers lying to us, presenting fake literature saying they were exempt.”
“It’s already felt a little unsafe as it is with the masks because everybody wants to fight about it if they’re wearing the mask under their nose. It’s just exhausting,” Bove said.
“We’re the ones who have to deal with it. Corporate decided they didn’t want to deal with that backlash, not that they were anyway, so they said ok, you can still wear a mask, but customers do not have to. They said if customers are vaccinated they don’t have to, but we’re not allowed to ask for vaccine cards to verify that, meaning it’s effectively a non-rule.”
“I’m vaccinated. A lot of people are. But a lot of people are not,” Bove went on. “A lot of people aren’t completely vaccinated, or have immunocompromised relatives, or are themselves immunocompromised. There are customers that do have genuine exceptions for masks, disabled people or neurodivergent people that do have a valid reason not to wear one in our stores. But suddenly now there will be regular anti-masker, unvaccinated chuckleheads walking around the store putting all of those people in danger.”
It’s not just the mask issue that has workers there feeling overwhelmed and under a lot of pressure.
“The past few weeks with management we’ve been kind of feeling under their thumb. They keep squeezing at us. They kept trying to micromanage every little thing,” Brooksmoore said. “We finally started bringing our concerns to them, saying we feel overworked. We have no manager, seven people have quit and we are so stretched thin, our hours are all over the place, and no one is listening to what we are saying in terms of treatment from customers. I talked to them on Thursday. I sat for an hour and a half meeting. I said this is how we’re all feeling. You guys came in and implemented policies without talking to anyone, especially concerning racism, sexism, and homophobia toward employees.”
Because of all of that three employees were preparing to quit, Bove said.
“And we were already understaffed. Now we’re completely not staffed because we all got fired.”
Payment varies store by store, but in Salem it’s around $12 an hour. Bove said he was given a raise of 25 cents an hour from the $12 he got when he started. He also contracted Covid back in December, although he doesn’t think he got it at work. The store had closed down for a couple weeks at the time, he said, because too many other staffers had gotten sick.
“All we wanted was to be compensated for the work we were doing or for them to hire more people,” he said. “Meanwhile they were sending all these ‘Thank you for being on the frontline!’ emails. ‘We appreciate your hard work!’ I’m sure you fucking do. We were getting fed up so we expressed we were concerned about basic safety. It was going to become a rapidly overwhelming and dangerous environment.”
Getting the store to implement a mask policy at the beginning of the pandemic was difficult too, Willwerth said. It wasn’t until months in, when bigger stores like Target started requiring them that Bull Mouse followed suit.
Throughout it all the abuse from customers continued, he said.
“We had people screaming obscenities in our face. We weren’t paid all that much. $11-12 hour, that’s not very livable at all. What was interesting was before the pandemic the company felt like a really good place to work. There’s a lot of longevity. Covid seemed to expose something that a lot of people didn’t really know was there.”
The outward-facing persona of the company (who I’ve reached out to for comment)1 is one of an inclusive workplace with a quirky hip culture. Items designed by employees like pride flag enamel pins and stickers are sold.
“They have signs up like ‘this is an inclusive workplace.’ Tell us your pronouns. They have a sweater with the Bull Moose logo and a pride flag and the BLM stripes added,” Bove said. “Then they fire queer people of color who are living paycheck to paycheck in their store.”
The workers also said they don’t feel like sufficient efforts to ensure the safety of employees have been taken.
“The customers are vicious,” Willwerth said. “You wouldn’t understand the amount of sexual harassment of my co-workers that goes on.”
“There have been multiple occasions where multiple people quit because of sexual harassment at the store,” Brooksmoore said.
“Customers touching them, saying lewd comments about their bodies. We have employees who just turned 18. Then they get harassed by these older creepy men. We’ve had customers scream and yell at us. Multiple times I’ve had to tell customers to put on masks and they refuse so I have to kick them out. I’ve had to ban people for racist comments said to employees of color, especially AAPI employees in the past year. Management just kind of did nothing. And we only had so much power. We couldn’t ban every customer we didn’t like.”
“I’ve been sexually harassed there a few times,” Gonsalves said. The worst incident was a customer who followed her around and touched her body and hair. She doesn’t believe her concerns were taken seriously.
“Whenever he came in after that, which was basically daily, I had to go into the backroom to hide.”
Whatever happens next the twenty odd employees are out of work in the short term and left to scramble.
“I just graduated college an hour ago, Gonsalves said. “So now I have loans and stuff coming in. I don’t have a job lined up because I thought I was secure for the summer so that’s kind of screwing me over.”
Most of them are planning on trying to get unemployment, Bove said. All hope this incident will awaken something in the employees in the rest of the stores, which could lead to improved working conditions.
“Truthfully, when all of us can get together and communicate is when they are going to have to change things,” Willwerth said.
The Least We Deserve is a Firing Squad
A firing squad is as amoral as any other form of capital punishment, but at least it is honest, and at least it is swift.
by Jack Crosbie of Discourse Blog
Earlier this week, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster signed a bill that would force death row inmates to choose between two methods of death: either the electric chair or a firing squad.
The bill is an open attempt to restore the state’s ability to kill, which for years has been stymied by the nationwide shortage of lethal injection drugs. That shortage is driven by several factors, the simplest being that American drug companies have realized that the potential profits from a murder drug do not outweigh the bad PR that making a murder drug would bring. Several states have attempted to use other drugs, and have received support from the courts; in 2015, the Supreme Court approved the continued use of a drug called midazolam even after it was responsible for several botched executions, including one that caused its victim to writhe and gag for 43 minutes before dying.
The cruel irony of our current system of institutionalized murder is that lethal injection was designed and popularized as a more “humane” way of ending a life. It transforms the violent act of murder into something resembling a medical procedure, one done with a minimum of sound and fury, dispassionately, behind closed doors in small hot rooms that only a select few ever have to bear entering. A person lies on a bed, a tube running into their arm. If everything goes as planned, they make only small movements and gasp, and then they are dead, and “justice” is done.
Journalist Elizabeth Bruenig, after witnessing a federal execution in 2020, wrote in the New York Times that capital punishment is “too absolute a penalty for a trial process so utterly limited… both arbitrary and prone to bias.” This is true. But the methods that we use only serve to reinforce this system, to convince people that the end result of a death sentence is justice and not murder, that a human being who has committed terrible transgressions is being quietly put down, and not killed with the same violence and depravity that they allegedly exhibited in life.
I have seen enough death in my life to know that it is never dignified. Bodies bleed and rot, abandoning nearly all recognizable humanity the moment a person’s consciousness has fled. The only thing you can hope for is that death is swift. Lethal injection is not swift but it is silent, insulting its victims by the absence of any spectacle in what is being done to them. I say this not to advocate for more death, but to explain that moving from hangings and shootings and beheadings did nothing to civilize us as a society. It only served to mask the clear moral injustice of a faceless state taking the life of an individual.
Which brings us to a bullet. A firing squad is as amoral as any other form of capital punishment, but at least it is honest, and at least it is swift. It also appears to be far more humane: Sonia Sotomayor, arguing fiercely for an inmate’s right to choose the firing squad in 2017, noted that execution by gun has never failed to kill, while lethal injection is responsible for botching 7 percent of all the murders it has committed since 1890. The last use of a firing squad for a state execution in the United States was in 2010, when Ronnie Lee Gardner was shot by five correctional officers with .30 caliber Winchester rifles in the state of Utah. A .30-30 round is a large bullet, roughly the size of a fat pencil eraser, or a bit narrower than the tip of your pinky finger. When it impacts flesh, it fragments and tumbles, pulverizing whatever vital organ it is aimed at. In the case of a firing squad, this is always the heart. In 2010, the death squad fired four bullets; one shooter’s gun held a blank, to ensure that the burden of guilt was shared among all five men. Gardner was declared dead just two minutes later. The near-total drop in blood pressure that follows a massive trauma to the heart means it’s unlikely he was conscious, aware or in pain for much more than a few seconds of that time.
This means that McMaster’s bill is a perfect example of the strange, hypocritical broken clock of Republican policy. The bill is monstrous, because its only purpose is to expand the state’s ability to kill. It is not monstrous, as many seem to think, because it proposes ending lives with a bullet. The injustice of the death penalty is that it allows the state to end a life. The state cannot be held responsible for murder in the way that an individual can; there is no punishment that can be leveled or restitution that can be demanded from it that even approaches justice for that crime. The system of capital punishment is built on this principle, of sheltering the people responsible for death from all consequences of ordering it. How many juries would sentence someone to death if they knew they would have to carry out the act itself? How many governors would pass such a bill if they knew they would have to pull a trigger?
My only hope, to this end, is that any widespread reintroduction of the firing squad will change public opinion of the death penalty, which 54 percent of Americans still think is morally acceptable. I hope that its very clear violence will force us as a society to reckon with what we do to the people we condemn to die. And if Republicans’ thirst for blood over-corrects so much that it gives some of those people the choice of a cleaner death, so be it. In the absence of justice, a bullet is the least we can give.
Thanks for reading. Please check out some other recent issues of Hell World including this devastating essay on loss during Covid.
Elsewhere I asked a couple dozen people to explain how not having had to commute the past year has improved their lives.
An hour or so after this was posted the company put this statement up on Twitter: