This battle between retailers like Wal-Mart and Toys R Us, and their workers over having to work Thanksgiving is personal for me. Before I re-careered and went into IT, I spent 14 years working in retail with two different department stores. I left the business in 2002. The craven madness for consumer dollars was more restrained back then; though I had to work odd hours during the holiday season, I enjoyed the flexibility of being able to work late (or early) and have the rest of the day to do what I wanted or needed. But regardless of the schedule I had during the holidays, I could always count on three days out of the year when the stores would be closed: Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving. I've got more to say below the zest a l'orange.
I appreciated that even though I had crazy hours during the holidays and I had to work two or three nights each week, I knew I could count on Thanksgiving to get a break before the craziness of Black Friday. Often, there was a lot of work before Thanksgiving to get my department completely merchandized. So Thanksgiving was a day to be able to kick back and enjoy the company of my family in the midst of a busy holiday season.
So I was taken aback a few years ago when I started to see that stores like Wal-Mart and Kohl's were open Thanksgiving Day. I thought, don't they have any respect for a national holiday? The holiday that commemorates the landing of the English, the origin of the United States? And of course, the conclusion you can draw is, they care only about the almighty dollar. They don't care about their employees, about them being able to spend time with their families. That's what getting Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other holidays off is all about. It is just wrong that employees have to work Thanksgiving Day. It was not created as a holiday for just another friggin' sale at Toys R Us.
It is bad enough that retail workers don't necessarily get the other national and federal holidays off either: Memorial Day, the 4th of July, Labor Day, New Year's Day, President's Day. What are all of these days often associated with, in people's minds? You got it! Big sales at the stores! And the retailers know that a lot of people are off on these holidays, and they schedule sales to be held at this time because they know that people are not working or in school and might like to take some time to shop! But this is not true for their employees. The store employees often have to work these holidays, at least some of them. When I was in the industry, I would have to work a lot of these holidays. For most of my career, when we worked the holidays, the second department store I worked at would pay us time and a half, and we would get another day off that same week. This was nice, but it was not the same as being able to have the holiday off and be with your family or friends. If everyone else you know has the holiday off and you don't, you miss the shared experiences that enrich your family and social life. The only saving grace for me is that I wasn't married at that time and so I didn't have a spouse or kids I was missing spending time with on a holiday. For those with a family, having to work on a holiday would be a real hardship, I would think.
So I won't shop on Thanksgiving Day. Hell, no, I won't do it! I would discourage my wife from shopping on Thanksgiving. And for those who are camping out in front of Best Buy or other stores right now so you can be the first in line for the Black Friday specials, I ask you, are you nuts? What makes having some trinket or bauble or gadget more special than being with your family or friends on Thanksgiving? Have we been warped as a society by the onslaught of crass commercialism to the extent that shopping is more important than our relationships? I am thankful that there are still some states in the Northeast that prohibit stores from being open on Thanksgiving. But sure enough, even there, at the stroke of midnight or one o'clock, the big box stores will be open and the Black Friday madness will ensue.