Why I do not support businesses being open on Thanksgiving.

Cam has written a thoughtful piece defending stores being open on Thanksgiving, primarily those offering Black Friday deals. Her argument centers around the pay received by individuals who work the holidays.

I politely disagree. And I’ll use my own family as to why.

My family subsists just barely above the poverty line. My husband is a teacher in the state that ranks 48th in teacher pay. I work part-time as a grocery store cashier. We are raising three children, one of whom has pronounced special needs. Unlike the commenter at Cam’s piece who suggests that

I think many people who are all “don’t shop/eat out/etc on holidays” have never lived outside a middle class, white-colllar (sic) job where you have a decent salary and get holidays off and have family to spend it with.

I am against working on holidays and am currently (and have been for the last 5+ years) living “outside a middle class white colllar (sic) job where (I) have a decent salary and get holidays off and have family to spend time with.” On the contrary, our family is the definition of “working poor.” We make too much money to receive most assistance but barely enough to subsist on most times. My husband only receives a paycheck for ten months out of the year and then we struggle during our highest bill time–summer when the low-temp is typically 89 degrees F and our AC runs non-stop to barely cool to 80–because our bills don’t stop even if his pay does. Even setting aside money during the rest of the year can’t replace a paycheck that covers the majority of our expenses and the out-of-control energy costs of summer that are unpredictable. So we physically and financially sweat it out on my barely there paychecks and any temp work my husband can find over the summer. And no sale in the summer gets me the extra hours a holiday sale around Christmas does.

My workplace was open Thanksgiving Day. A limited number of individuals were selected to work. None of them received any form of incentive such as “overtime,” “double-time” or even a “comp” day. All are part time employees. I live in a “right-to-work” state meaning it is against the  law for businesses to have union agreements that afford some in other states in industries such as mine benefits such as holiday pay for part-time employees. And many friends have told me their jobs at drug stores, big box marts, and call centers (among others) require part-timers to work the holiday while not offering extra pay because they are part-time. This is a cost-saving measure to avoid paying any form of overtime. Some offer “an additional 8 hours pay” but also cut a shift for the employee or force the employee to take a day off the same week they would normally have worked in addition.

Overtime pay is not mandated by law (nor is holiday pay) unless an employee exceeds 40 hours per week. Many companies, like mine, do not employee any hourly employees part-time. My company will not allow any hourly employee to work more than 28 hours a week because 29 mandates health benefits so there is almost no way any employee would exceed 40 hours under normal circumstances to receive overtime. So, why would companies that do that offer holiday pay?

Now, I’m not a fan of unions at all, but I can see why many people would feel like when it comes to issues like this they may be helpful. After all, most stores are now opening on Thanksgiving and starting their “Black Friday” stampedes sales not just with a few employees to offer help to customers needing last minute items. Locally people were arrested on Thanksgiving Day at a Big Box store for fighting over electronics. And those employees dealing with that, are being paid minimum wage and often being forced to give up a shift or not getting any benefit at all.

In the current economic state, the CEOs of corporations are not looking to give employees extra pay incentives, they are looking at ways to make the most money at the lowest cost. It would be wonderful if the overtime/holiday pay incentive Cam refers to herself and her husband receiving were the norm, but at this time, in this economy, in most of the country, it is, simply, not the case. And the abuse heaped on employees who are stuck with the hordes coming out for a flat-screen (not last minute extra milk for the mashed potatoes) is not making it any easier for people to want to volunteer.

I don’t feel morally superior for not shopping on Thanksgiving Day. Even if I enjoyed shopping (which I don’t, introvert that I am), in case you missed it, my family is poor. We can’t even afford most of the deals. I only happened to buy each of my children a gift online yesterday because it was my regular payday. I didn’t get any sort of deals on the products at all. (The fact that most “deals” are not in fact such, is a topic for a whole other post.) But I do feel that there is some exploitation of workers being made to work Thanksgiving Day. Most of them are receiving no benefit and are required to work that day doing non-essential things (police officers and hospitals are essential, an iPad is not) in order to keep their job which pays less than a living wage under good circumstances.

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