I’ve always liked Thanksgiving because it might be one of the least commercialized holidays we have left. It’s a simple celebration that focuses on nothing more than a big meal with family and friends. What’s not to like?
Thanksgiving is fending off a real challenge these days, however, from the ever-expanding creep of holiday shopping. It started with Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that’s become a ubiquitous blowout sale event at big box stores and small retailers everywhere. Many are barely done digesting Thursday’s turkey when they’re heading out the door for midnight openings.
That was bad enough. But recently, stores aren’t even bothering with early morning openings on Black Friday. They’re opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day. The big box stores like Walmart and Target will be open. Lots of other national chains will be open, too.
While some might enjoy the convenience of being able to hit the shops any day they choose, the burden of keeping Thanksgiving open for shoppers falls squarely on the shoulders of retail employees. While more and more American workers are getting both Thanksgiving and Black Friday off, up to 80% of the workforce, according to a recent Bloomberg survey, the remaining 20% is likely to be working through the holidays.
To make matters worse, many of those workers will not be getting extra pay. Walmart “rolled back” holiday pay for employees. In the past, workers might have picked up extra shifts to make more money to spend on bills or their own holiday gifts. Now, they’re as likely to be working a shift they have little choice to avoid and aren’t even earning a premium to keep stores open for the rest of us who can’t wait for Black Friday to get our deals.
In a 2017 story on NPR’s Marketplace, a Walmart employee in Texas named Arnold Cortez illustrated the problem well. He and his wife both worked at the Walmart and had to work through the holidays. They said they had become accustomed to marking the holiday on the Saturday or Sunday after the holiday when they had some time off.
“If we didn’t work on Thanksgiving, we would be planning our own Thanksgiving dinner together and invite them over for once,” Cortez’s wife said.
Some states – Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine – have made opening for Thanksgiving illegal. While that may seem heavy-handed, it’s a necessary step toward protecting the holiday for low-wage workers. If laws like those were coupled with mandatory holiday pay, it would be a step even further in the right direction.
It might seem silly to force companies and workers to stay home on Thanksgiving, but there’s likely no other way. Given the chance, these shops will make their workers come in. And those workers, unlike the rest of us, really don’t have a choice in the matter. Let’s all agree to take Thanksgiving off, for ourselves and those who work tough, low-paying retail jobs.