National Consumers League

Black Friday lurking for shoppers, workers


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By Michell K. McIntyre, Director of NCL’s Special Project on Wage Theft

Thanksgiving - a day set aside to spend with family and friends and give thanks for one's blessings. However, more and more often, shopping and the rush for the almighty deal has changed the meaning of the holiday. Stores in search of a new gimmick have decided that opening at midnight on Black Friday is no longer early enough and have moved up the opening time to Thanksgiving evening. This year, four major retailers: Walmart, Toy-R-Us, Kmart, and Sears will open at 8pm, with Target following at 9pm. While the new opening times give the public additional time to shop for deals, what does it mean for the workers forced to give up their precious time with their friends and family?
Are corporations and executives thinking about their employees when deciding to open so early on a national holiday? Do the workers' lives and well-being factor into the decision? Or is the pursuit of profits all that's considered? Time after time, companies put their well-being ahead of their employees'. These policies do not take into consideration the lives of the workers and are particularly disrespectful when one understands that most workers will have to be at work well before 8pm to open the stores. What happened to the workers' Thanksgiving dinner and their time to spend with friends and family?
Workers across the country have been trying to stand up and fight for their well-being and challenge the corporate dogma of profits before anything else.  Last week, Hostess Brand workers went on strike to protest the company's lowering of wages, slashing benefits, and halted contributions to pension plans. Instead of working with their employees, Hostess decided to blame their workers for Hostess's financial problems and shut down the company. Walmart workers from Chicago to Dallas and Miami to Los Angeles have threaten to walk out on Black Friday if the company does not address the longstanding workplace issues including low wages, spiking health care premiums, and management retaliation for attempting to organize or even talk about joining a union. OUR Walmart and Making Change at Walmart, a coalition of labor organizations, civil rights groups, and religious institutions, have come together to support the workers of Walmart including the warehouse workers who have been going on rolling strikes from port to port. Besides walking out, Walmart workers may stage protests and rallies outside the stores and consumers should be aware of what happens behind the scenes at their retailers. What goes into those low prices and Black Friday deals? Management threats, closed-door mandatory lectures on the evils of collective bargaining, retaliation in the forms of decreased work hours, and unjustified terminations coupled with low wages and increasing health care premiums have left Walmart workers at the end of their ropes.
Do consumers take into account the working conditions at their favorite retailers? According to NCL's spring 2012 survey, 94 percent of Americans say the way workers are treated is “very important,” “important,” or “somewhat important" to them personally in that the products they buy are not made under unfair, overly harsh, and dangerous working conditions. Instead of shopping at retailers that cut corners when it comes to their employees, we should reward companies who treat their workers with respect, livable wages, and benefits with our consumer dollars.