Should I care more that Walmart employees need to work on Thanksgiving?


Earlier today, I shared with some friends that, in the whole scheme of things, I’m not terribly pissed about Walmart opening their doors at 6:00 PM on Thanksgiving day. I shared this thought after having read several posts condemning the retail giant for denying their employees the ability to enjoy the holiday with their families. I suggested that perhaps the efforts of those circulating petitions would better be put to use rallying those in their personal networks to confront the corporation on more substantive issues, like employee pay. (As we’ve discussed in the past, in spite of raking in over $17 billion in corporate profits last year, Walmart continues to lead the list of America’s worst employers, routinely directing its in-store “associates” to public assistance programs as part of their standard human resources protocol, and investing millions each year in fighting attempts to raise the minimum wage.)

At this point, I should probably note that, as a rule, I don’t shop on Thanksgiving, or the day after, commonly referred to as Black Friday. (I honor Buy Nothing Day to the best of my ability. While I appreciate that retailers need to make sales in order to stay in business, and compete with their online competitors, I’m in no hurry to contribute to the Black Friday death count.) Furthermore, I don’t shop at Walmart, choosing instead to do my rare big-box retail shopping at Costco, where employees, on average, are paid about three times more per hour, and are much more likely to receive company-funded health care. (Costco, by the way, will be closed on Thanksgiving.)

At any rate, I expressed my frustration to my friends. “While it sucks that Walmart employees have to work on Thanksgiving, I wish people would focus instead on the fact that they’re paid shitty wages,” I said. “I mean I think it’s cool that folks on Facebook are up in arms about people having to work on Thursday, but I think, relatively speaking, that’s a small part of the problem.” And, as good friends are known to do, several of them challenged me on the issue… Here are some of their responses. [note: I’m not using their full names as I didn’t ask them whether or not I could quote them here.]

SG: It’s not a small part of the problem. It’s a different problem. If we make Thanksgiving day sales non-profitable for Walmart, they won’t continue the ridiculous expansion. On the other hand, I don’t know if we the consumers can really get behind a “boycott Walmart altogether” campaign. People want cheap stuff. That problem is probably better solved by a strong union.

LF: I think the working on Thanksgiving thing is symbolic of the problem or rather a very visible manifestation of the problem. The real problem is that workers don’t have any power. If I thought the workers were there by choice, I would be ok with shopping on Thanksgiving but when your wages are so low that you must work if the shift is offered to you, that isn’t much of a choice. I don’t know the answer other than to support strong unions and more small businesses… If we could get a significant number of the labor force to become self employed in a way where they can actually earn a living, people would have more options and once they have more options, they’ll have more power. Walmart (and others) get away with their labor policies because workers are in a situation where although technically they have a choice, the reality is that they don’t have much of one. They choose one bad situation (working Thanksgiving at Walmart for near min wage) because there other options are so bad. Change the other options part.

JH: Many people welcome the opportunity to work the holidays because they don’t work full-time the rest of the year. So eliminating T-Giving sales and doing nothing else would actually make their lives more difficult. Walmart likes to keep them hungry and trapped.

JC: I agree that it’s minor compared to the overall treatment of working people (at WalMart / in the country), but I also think it’s symbolically resonant, and that’s why it’s worth the attention. Thanksgiving represents certain values: time with family, a break from the hustle-and-bustle to show gratitude for the earth’s bounty, etc. It suggests community and sharing: we all bring to the table what we can and no one is left out. When the big corporations make people work on Thanksgiving, they’re displaying their true colors and a set of values that so clearly contradict those of family and community: “FUCK you and your family; get back to WORK!”

RR: It’s the latest example of the race to the bottom led by Walmart, the nation’s largest employer, which for years has scheduled work on Thanksgiving. The expansion of hours will take more than a million employees away from their families during the holiday. The big retailers say it’s their employees’ choice, but it’s hardly a choice: If they’re scheduled but don’t work, it’s counted as a missed day, and too many missed days mean they’re fired. If they’re working part-time (as an increasing number are) they can’t afford not to work when they’re scheduled to. Last week the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board found Walmart had “unlawfully threatened, disciplined and/or terminated employees” at stores in 13 states, for protesting pay and working conditions in the last year’s “Black Friday” walkouts. Please support Walmart workers – and, by extension, low-wage workers across America – by boycotting Walmart this Friday. You might go a step further: Don’t shop in any big retailer Thanksgiving Day. Spread the word.

OK, I kind of cheated on that last one. That was from former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who isn’t technically a friend… Anyway, as I thought that a number of good points were raised, I thought that I’d share.

And, yes, I’m kind of conflicted about this. I hate Walmart. I’ve seen first-hand how they’ve destroyed small towns that I love in Kentucky, killing established businesses that have served communities for generations, decimating historic downtowns, and driving down wages. I hate how they treat their employees. And I hate their insatiable need for more, at all costs, as demonstrated by this most recent move to push the holiday sales cycle into Thanksgiving day. With that said, though, I think in this case, a lot of the folks who are pissed at Walmart are pissed not because the company operates on the blood of its malnourished workers, but because they’re projecting themselves into the narrative. It seems to me that, to a great extent, they’re probably thinking about their own non-retail jobs, and how much they’d hate it if their boss came up to them and said, “You’re going to have to work on Thanksgiving, while your family eats turkey and watches the Lions game without you.” And maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe that empathy will open doors and lead to more substantive change. But I can’t help but see it as a diversion. Moving the start time of Black Friday back a few hours, with all due respect, wouldn’t change a damn thing.

And, to be completely frank, there’s a bit of hypocrisy at play too, as I know that many who are complaining about Walmart being open on Thanksgiving will themselves be going out to the movies Thursday evening and hitting the bars Thursday night. The truth is, a lot of folks are working on the holiday… It’s just that Walmart is at the forefront of the War on Thanksgiving, constantly inching the battle lines closer to Thursday morning. (Target, Kmart and Best Buy, among others, have said that they’ll be opening at 6:00 on Thanksgiving this year, following the lead of Walmart.)

In conclusion, here’s my message to all of you who hate that Walmart is opening at 6:00 PM on Thursday. Just remember your anger two weeks from now, when you want to buy some cheap piece-of-crap toy for your kid to take into school for the annual gift exchange, and go to that little shop downtown instead. And, if you can, let the folks in Bentonville know. Let them know that they lost a sale because of how they treat people. Let them know that you’re tired of subsidizing their “everyday low prices” with your tax dollars, paying to keep their employees fed because they refuse to pay a living wage. Let them know that this is bigger than just Thanksgiving.

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  1. LR
    Posted November 26, 2013 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    I never shop on Black Friday and I certainly won’t be going to any stores on Thanksgiving. I’m not interested in any of the cheap, off-brand, no name garbage they sell on those days.

  2. Alice Krum
    Posted November 27, 2013 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    The thing is, Amazon doesn’t close on Thanksgiving Day. Walmart, as much as I despise them, is just reflecting the will of the people to start their holiday shopping early. While it’s true that they feed the frenzy by offering “door busters” a majority of the blame belongs with the people who line up outside instead of staying home with their families.

  3. K2
    Posted November 27, 2013 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    I read this morning about a Pizza Hut manager who got fired for refusing to make people work on Thanksgiving. This isn’t a Walmart thing. This is an American thing. Holidays are for the rich.

  4. Dan Gillotte
    Posted November 27, 2013 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Wheatsville Food Co-op, where I work, is closed on Thanksgiving, but some food co-ops do open in the mornings on Thanksgiving to serve their member-owners and other shoppers. I thought this blog from a co-op in Arkansas, just a few miles from Bentonville showed the co-op difference:

    “Every year around this time, we start to get customer questions about why we’re open on Thanksgiving. Most of the questions come from a place of concern for our employees – our customers don’t like the idea of our employees working on a day that is reserved for family time. We couldn’t agree more! So here’s how we handle Thanksgiving:

    Every year, before Thanksgiving comes, we ask our staff if anyone would like to volunteer to work. We typically plan to run the store on a bare bones crew – À la Carte is not open, so we need one staff member for Produce, one or two for Grocery, one for Wellness, and a couple staff to run our cash registers and to oversee cash security. That ends up being around 6 or 7 people total who work from a little before 9 am to a little after 1pm on Thanksgiving Day. These people all volunteer to work, and they get paid time-and-a-half for doing so. This can be a real perk for some employees, especially around the holidays when cash can get tight for a lot of people. We never force anyone to work, and we won’t open if we don’t have the volunteers needed to do so. We love our staff, and we know how much you love them as well!

    Thanks so much for being concerned for our employees! We hope that us being open for those few hours on Thanksgiving Day will help a few people with some last minute holiday needs, and that our staff who volunteer still have plenty of time to spend with family and friends after they leave the store.

    Happy Thanksgiving!”

  5. Meta
    Posted November 27, 2013 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    The Pizza Hut story.

    With many stores staying open during Thanksgiving this year thereby forcing workers to miss out on spending the holiday with their families, one store manager decided to take a stand on behalf of his employees — and was promptly terminated.

    Tony Rohr had held various position at the Pizza Hut in Elkhart, Indiana, since starting out as a cook there some ten years ago.

    He was eventually promoted to general manager of the franchise, but his decision to refuse an order to open the store on Thanksgiving ultimately cost him the job.

    “I said why can’t we be the company that stands up and says we care about our employees and they can have the day off,” he told local CBS affiliate WSBT.

    According to Rohr, the store, owned by the franchise behemoth Franchise Management Investors US, has typically been closed on Thanksgiving to give employees time off to spend with loves ones.

    When he was told to either open the store or sign a letter of resignation, Rohr opted for a third option: Sending his bosses a letter of protest.

    “I am not quitting. I do not resign however I accept that the refusal to comply with this greedy, immoral request means the end of my tenure with this company,” Rohr wrote in his letter. “I hope you realize that it’s the people at the bottom of the totem pole that make your life possible.”

    Read more:

  6. Shiggy Diggy
    Posted November 27, 2013 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    here is my response regarding this war on thanksgiving

  7. Emma
    Posted November 27, 2013 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Wal-Mart and its equivalents are not the problem.
    The people choosing to make purchases there are the problem.

  8. Lynne
    Posted November 27, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Yeah but often people really need to shop at Walmart, either because it is the only decent place available or because the people are poor and the price difference is a huge difference to them. It is one thing for someone like me to get all judgey on folks for their shopping habits but they may have real and valid reasons for choosing the things they do. Yes, it would be nice if we could somehow force people to understand the relationship between their own consumer behavior and the labor market but that isn’t realistic. Since so many of WalMarts shoppers also happen to be the victims of WalMart’s policies and thus have less money to spend, I am not sure it is fair to dump the entirety of the problem in their laps. In other words, WalMart IS very much a major part of the problem.

  9. Meta
    Posted November 27, 2013 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    From Consumerist: “Walmart Hasn’t Paid $7,000 Fine For 2008 Black Friday Trampling Death”

    We mentioned the other day that it’s been five years since the tragic Black Friday trampling death of a Walmart employee. In the years since, Walmart has spent millions of dollars trying to avoid the meager $7,000 fine from OSHA, and still has yet to pay it.

    Back in 2010, the company said it was fighting the $7,000 penalty because it felt that an employee being trampled by a crowd of shoppers at an annual sales event heavily marketed and advertised by your company doesn’t count as an occupational hazard and that assessing the fine “has far-reaching implications for the retail industry that could subject retailers to unfairly harsh penalties and restrictions on future sales promotions.”

    The case is currently stuck in appeal, and one former OSHA analyst tells Huffington Post that this is a case of Walmart flexing its muscles to prove it’s the biggest bruiser in the room.

    “It’s not about the penalty,” said the former OSHA staffer. “It’s this interest in seeing how far Walmart can push back against the decision.”

  10. Rox
    Posted November 27, 2013 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    “The thing is, Amazon doesn’t close on Thanksgiving Day.”

    Neither does

  11. YesSheSaid
    Posted November 27, 2013 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Mark for noting that going to the movies or restaurants is a big tradition for many people on Thanksgiving. As much as I enjoy bitching about how Walmart has normalized hideous work/environmental resource practices world wide, it seems like Black Friday is not to blame on them alone.

    Thank you Shiggy Diggy for passing along the youtube vid! Brilliant! and Meta for the Walmart death trample link. No shame.

  12. emma
    Posted November 28, 2013 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    I get the sale ads. Walmart isn’t even much cheaper than anywhere else, their ads just say they are.

  13. emma
    Posted November 28, 2013 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    As someone who has always worked a non traditional schedule; Ive seen many instances of people who have no one, they can or want to spend the holidays with, volunteering to work as a welcomed alternative to sitting home dwelling on their situation.

  14. Posted November 28, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    I used to work at Kroger and would volunteer to work on Thanksgiving and Christmas because I could get quadruple time.

    In my experience working low wage jobs, I’ve found that a lot of people offer to do it so that others don’t have to work, particularly if they are single or have no plans.

    I don’t see the big deal but then I don’t understand why certain days have to be sacred. Christmas, a Christian holiday, deserves no defense at all. Thanksgiving is a celebration of the European incursion in the United States and the subsequent subjugation of the Native American peoples. Again, this deserves no defense.

    Holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas are just another day of the week. Stores should have to option to be open if they like, and workers should be able to work if they like.

    If unions or groups of employees have problems with working on Thanksgiving, they should pressure their employers to close or reduce hours. Unfortunately, in the case of anti-union Wal-Mart, this is impossible. That, to me, is the biggest scandal here.

  15. Demetrius
    Posted November 28, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Sure, WalMart is evil, but this is much bigger than that.

    Simply put: In order for Capitalism to survive, it must constantly expand.

    Now that working, shopping, buying and consuming finally fill the majority of people’s waking hours the other 353 days per year … wasn’t it only a matter of time before we opened up Thanksgiving and Christmas Day for commercial exploitation, too?

    After all, how can the value of (precious) time spent relaxing and sharing a meal with family and friends compare with the pure joy of giving “thanks” for scoring an “Outrageous Pre-Black-Friday Doorbuster!” deal on some cheap, disposable, slave-labor made gadget … or enjoying an “Extra Large Meat Lovers’ Pizza” for only $9.99?

  16. Posted November 28, 2013 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    “Giving thanks” is essentially a Christian practice, as in we “thank the God of Abraham for all that he has blessed us with.”

    I do not understand why religiously plural America needs to follow this concept.

    As for consumerism, people forget that people like shopping. They like shopping with their friends and family. If they go out shopping, they often eat together and have a good time. Is there really anything to be gained by making people feel guilty about that?

    As for capitalism and growth, I’m not sure I even want to comment. What are the alternatives here? Generally speaking, I support creating employment opportunities for people in a market economy. I’m not sure most Americans relish farming. It’s also pretty obvious (given the evidence) that an economy can’t be based exclusively on public employment without any means to pay for it. It didn’t work for the Soviet Union (and extreme example) and many European countries (but not all) are scrambling trying to figure out how to pay for their bloated public sectors without appreciable economic growth. Note how high European unemployment figures are. They reach levels which would be unforgivable in the United States. They are paying the price for it in lost tax revenues and lost economic opportunities.

    I enjoy these barbs at capitalism, and agree that Wal Mart’s labor practices are reprehensible but I wonder where it ends.

  17. Demetrius
    Posted November 28, 2013 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think there necessarily has to be anything Christian (or religious, for that matter) about setting aside a day to think about, and perhaps be thankful for, the things that truly matter — family, friends, health, whatever.

    Also, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with shopping (we all need to buy things), or even with businesses being able to make a profit. What I do resent is the relentless “creep” of over-the-top advertising/marketing/media/commercialism/consumerism into virtually every aspect of human activity.

    Is it too much to ask that one or two days a year (whether we choose to celebrate them in a religious fashion, or not) be set aside as “down time” from the relentless parade of working, shopping, buying and consuming?

    In civilized countries, even part-time workers are entitled to at least a handful of paid holidays. Only in America would some consider having stores open on holidays as “progress” because it provides already under-paid workers a chance to earn some extra cash.

  18. Emma
    Posted November 29, 2013 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    You have the ability to be thankful every minute of every day. No one makes you shop at stores (you can basically buy anything you need from your bed and have it delivered to your door), no one makes you watch TV ads. Even on a federally mandated “down time” day, when no shops are allowed to be open and you are forced to have quality time with your family, who will work the police shifts, who will be your fireman? Who will take care of you at the hospital if you get hurt on this most special of all days? If it snows, should someone plow the streets? What if there is a water main break or the power goes out? Does the military get the day off? What if some missiles come in, who will operate the Star Wars system??? There will never be a day when no one has to work. One of the great things about America is that you can choose not to participate. Make your days however you want them but that is up to you, not Walmart.

  19. wesamom
    Posted November 30, 2013 at 3:06 am | Permalink

    If workers want to be home with their families – then quit! When they say “there aren’t any other jobs out there”, then he should put on his smock , shut his trap, and be THANKFUL for his job.

  20. peter
    Posted November 30, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Were do we stop? What about police? Fire fighters? 9-11 operators? Don’t they have families? Should we just shut the whole country down? No one can work that day? Good luck with that! Start your house on fire on your own fire fighters are all with there families! Self starting a fire so trying to take family time away! Why do we need a special day to spend time with family?! How about the other 364 days of the year?

  21. Posted November 30, 2013 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    I have been rereading this post over and over again. I’m finding it interesting that left leaning people have no problem with imposing a pseudo-religious holiday on people, whether they wish it or not.

    Moreover, it’s interesting that they have no problem with imposing a particular set of moral values (“being with family”) on people, some of which are more akin to the basic tenets of the American Republican Party.

    My view is that no holiday is sacred. We live in a secular state. No one, not even business, should be deprived of the freedom to do business based on the moral views of even a majority. I remember the laws in Mississippi that would prevent beer sales on Sunday. It was reasoned that alcohol interfered with the family unit.

    Here, your readers don’t speak of alcohol, but consider the act of work itself to interfere with the family, assuming rashly, that 1) everyone in America cares about families (I don’t) and 2) that there aren’t numerous opportunities for family to connect already (the telephone and email are bad enough for me).

    I’m having trouble pinpointing exactly what it is that pisses me off about enforced holidays, but I think I’m getting close: the readership of sound eerily like the Southern Baptists of Mississippi.

  22. Demetrius
    Posted November 30, 2013 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    “No one, not even business, should be deprived of the freedom to do business based on the moral views of even a majority.”

    … and some MM readers are beginning to sound eerily like acolytes of Ayn Rand. (And I ain’t talking about “John Galt.”)

  23. Kanye West
    Posted November 30, 2013 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    Peter Larson hates black people.

  24. Posted November 30, 2013 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    And he’s dedicated his life to the fight of infectious disease in Africa because….

  25. Posted November 30, 2013 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    I like Thanksgiving. I think it’s one of the better holidays we’ve got, and, to Pete’s point, one of the less religious ones. Sure, I suppose there can be football and booze, but there’s also room for thoughtful mediation on what matters. So, by no means am I saying that we should just accept this “War on Thanksgiving” being waged by corporate America. My point was just that Walmart is guilty of so much worse…

  26. Posted November 30, 2013 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    I have to admit that I dislike all of the holidays. I associate them with football and drug/alcohol addled family members.

    Christmas music, of course, should be considered a crime against humanity.

    I agreed with the post. There are bigger fish to fry than whether Wal Mart is open on Thanksgiving or not.

  27. EOS
    Posted December 1, 2013 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Thanksgiving is certainly NOT one of the less religious holidays. It is a day set aside to give thanks to our creator God for His providence.

    You are certainly free to use the day to drink and eat excessively, or to stand in the cold and watch parades and football games, or to join the crowds worshipping at the altars of consumerism and elbow and punch your way to the best deals for more stuff. To what end?

    I encourage you to experience this holiday season differently. Skip the Santas, the reindeer, the trees and lights, the gifts, the parties, the sappy movies. Slow the pace of your life and spend time each day meditating on God’s blessings, reading His word, praying for His guidance and loving your neighbors through acts of kindness rather than gifts of monetary value. You’ll be amazed at the difference in your life and never again question God’s existence.

  28. Bob
    Posted December 1, 2013 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Christmas music is awesome and you must be a truly sad bastard to just flat out hate all of it. I have been collecting all manner of it for decades and it is probably the weirdest, most inspired and often loony corner of pop music. I am neither religious nor a Black Friday consumer. I’m tempted to share my online web site Christmas music project. It has an awesome collection of rare rhythm & blues, rockabilly, surf, country, ska, jazz and r&r holiday gems. But really, you don’t deserve it.

  29. anonymous
    Posted December 1, 2013 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Share it, Bob. Tis the season.

  30. Posted December 1, 2013 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    “Thanksgiving is certainly NOT one of the less religious holidays. It is a day set aside to give thanks to our creator God for His providence.”

    YES. This is 100% true. This is exactly why I choose not to celebrate it.

    Aside from the swell of memories of the abomination known as American football and the yearly bouts of violence and DUIs.

  31. Bob
    Posted December 1, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    For those who dig it, I will throw the link up as soon as the website is back up. We are currently doing a technical overhaul to make it friendlier to mobile devices.

    Jesus Peter, I am generally just annoyed by you but the thread of things you hate is sort of heartbreaking. What do you like about American life? You seem like such a fucking miserable mope.

  32. Posted December 1, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    I don’t see why it’s a bad thing for people to work on Thanksgiving. If businesses are open, somebody has to work there. I had a cup of coffee at my local bakery on Thanksgiving; the staff didn’t look unhappy.

    I don’t celebrate the holidays either. The combination of religion, gluttony, and compulsive shopping is not my idea of fun. Nor is gloating over the massacre of the Indians. If other people enjoy it, fine; do what you want.

    I spent my Thanksgiving home alone. I wasn’t “sitting home alone dwelling on my situation”; I was working on my next book, which was fun.

  33. Posted December 1, 2013 at 1:20 pm | Permalink


    There’s lots of things I like about American life but none of them have anything to do with sports, holidays, religion or family.

    I’m not miserable at all. In fact, I think life is pretty rad.

    I like Doug’s idea. I’m excited to read his book.

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