Retail workers protest employers’ encroachment on holiday time

Anthony Hardwick works for Target in Omaha. When Target management told him that he would have to work on Thanksgiving evening because the store was moving its day-after Thanksgiving opening up to midnight Friday morning, he was not happy.

Like most retail workers, Hardwick gets to spend very few holidays away from work and with family and friends. Thanksgiving was one of a very few exceptions.

“I was so disappointed the day I found out about this because I did the math in my head and I was going to have to go to bed in the early afternoon on Thanksgiving to go in and work 10 hours,” Hardwick said to the Washington Post. “Everyone at work was resigned because the economy is bad and so our employer has us over a barrel.”

But Hardwick decided not to suffer in silence. About two weeks ago he drew up a petition urging Target to reconsider opening its day-after-Thanksgiving at midnight. He posted the petition on Change.org hoping that he could get a few people to support him. As of November 23, 198,636 people had signed the petition.

“A holiday with family is not just for the elite of this nation,” reads the petition. “All Americans should be able to break bread with loved ones and get a good night’s rest on Thanksgiving. Join me in calling Target retail stores to push back their original opening time.”

“It’s a national holiday, not a national shopping day,” wrote Bryce Allison, one of the petition signers in the comment section. “Maybe try giving thanks to your employees that bring you so much money.”

Target isn’t the only retailer opening its doors at midnight or earlier. To name just a few, Macy’s will open at midnight, Toys ‘R Us at 9:00 pm Thursday night, and many Walmart stores at 10:00 pm.  Like Hardwick, some Walmart workers are doing something about their boss’ encroachment into their family time.

A group of Walmart workers have banded together to form Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart). Among other things, the group wants Walmart to give them a say in holiday scheduling.

“When Walmart changes holiday schedules at the last-minute, it is not only inconvenient, but it’s just not right,” reads a statement on the OUR Walmart website. “We have earned a say (in scheduling). Now is the time for all associates to stick together and call on Walmart for the respect and voice we deserve.”

The group has posted a statement online and is urging other Walmart workers and their supporters to sign. It reads, “As Walmart Associates, we know this time of year is busy for retail and we want to serve our customers.  However, the holidays are also about family.  It is not fair that Walmart sets holiday schedules without considering us and our families.  We deserve a say.”

An opinion column written by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite that last week appeared in the Washington Post said that retailers have overstepped their bounds when store openings bleed into Thanksgiving and intrude on one of the few respites from the exhausting work of retail workers.

This mania to one up the competition by taking away workers’ holiday time isn’t necessary, writes Thistlethwaite, because “corporations are already making huge profits.” She goes on to observe that corporate profits have increased largely because corporations are squeezing more productivity out of their workers. In the case of giant retailers like Target and Walmart, part of this productivity squeeze comes in the form of making their workers work on holidays.

“The human toll of this increased ‘productivity’ is heartbreaking and harrowing,” Thistlethwaite writes. “Few escape the productivity treadmill powered by human overwork.

“When . . . work becomes grinding toil for flat or reduced wages and workers are afforded little rest, it violates human dignity. This has serious consequences for people’s sense of self-worth. It can contribute to a sense of helplessness and despair, and can spill over into family and society as people are more and more tired and stressed. Work today is becoming an attack on the fundamental dignity and worth of human beings as expressed through their work.”

“The system is profoundly immoral,” adds Thistlethwaite.

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