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Walmart Opposes Panic Buttons in New York Stores

— June 26, 2024

Walmart pushes back against new legislation mandating panic buttons for retail worker safety and security.

Retail giant Walmart recently voiced its opposition to the implementation of panic buttons in its New York stores, a move proposed under a new law aimed at enhancing the safety of retail workers.  With 4,700 stores nationwide, including 98 in New York alone, Walmart is the largest retailer in the United States.

The New York State Senate passed legislation earlier this month, requiring major retail chains, including Walmart, to install panic buttons or provide wearable/mobile-phone-activated panic buttons to employees. These devices provide employees with a direct and immediate way to call for help in case of emergencies, such as thefts, violent incidents, or medical emergencies. Knowing that they have access to a panic button can also give employees a greater sense of security and confidence while working.

The law, a response to the increasing threats faced by store clerks from thefts and violence, has already been approved by the state’s Assembly and now awaits Governor Kathy Hochul’s signature. However, retail groups have criticized the law, citing the high cost associated with installing panic buttons.

Dan Bartlett, Walmart’s executive vice president of corporate affairs, voiced the company’s opposition to the proposed panic button requirement, citing concerns regarding the potential for false alarms. Bartlett emphasized, “Eight out of 10 times somebody thinks something’s going on, there’s actually not.” He argued that implementing such protocols could result in unnecessary disruptions and distractions for both employees and customers, potentially impacting the store’s operations and customer experience. In response to growing safety concerns, however, Walmart opted to appoint its first chief safety officer in April to assess store employee safety.

Walmart Opposes Panic Buttons in New York Stores
Photo by RDNE Stock project from Pexels

Under the New York law, the panic button requirement would be effective in 2027 for retailers with more than 500 employees nationwide. Additionally, most retailers with 10 or more employees would be required to provide violence prevention and safety training to their staff to better prepare them for emergencies.

Despite Walmart’s stance, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, representing over 100,000 U.S. workers, has supported the bill’s passage in New York. However, a group of retail industry lobbyists, including the National Retail Federation and the Food Industry Alliance of New York State, has opposed it, arguing that panic buttons would not effectively address recidivism or illegal activities like shoplifting and assault.

The group also cited a statement from the New York Police Department Community Affairs Bureau, which favors phone calls to 911 over panic buttons, as they provide responders with vital information that panic buttons do not.

“We stand by the letter and have concerns relative to mandating panic buttons,” said Michael Durant, CEO of the Food Industry Alliance of New York State, reaffirming the industry’s position.

At Walmart’s annual meeting in Bentonville, Arkansas, where it originated, a proposal from Walmart store employee shareholders requesting an independent review of the company’s workplace safety and violence policies and practices was ultimately turned down. While the debate over implementing panic buttons continues, the focus should remain on ensuring the safety and well-being of retail workers in New York and beyond.


Reuters: Walmart Opposes New York Plan to Add Panic Buttons to Stores

Major retailer speaks out against NY bill requiring panic buttons in retail stores. Why?

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