Thoughts on Retail Workers Working on Thanksgiving from an Ex-Retail Worker


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Long ago, I worked in retail. I worked at a large family owned chain here in Ohio called Meijer. Unlike other stores, they are open 364 days a year for 24 hours a day closing only on Christmas. Some retail has always been open on Thanksgiving. The rest of world is changing, and it’s ok.

For those who are unfamiliar with Meijer, they are the pioneers of the super store concept. You can buy milk, a pair of jeans and a new laptop all in the same store. In today’s world, this is common place in big box stores like Walmart. However, Meijer opened their first “Thrifty Acres” store in 1962, and at that time nobody did this. In the late 80’s that they decided to stay open 24 hours a day including Thanksgiving. I worked for the chain twice during the 90’s. Once I was a bakery clerk, and the second time I was a cashier. In both cases, the stores remained open on Thanksgiving Day. I have had to work MANY Thanksgiving days in that time period. Thankfully, in my first stint, my boss was understanding since I was in Ohio and my family (at the time) was in Pennsylvania.  However, it was in my second stint as a cashier that I worked MANY Thanksgivings. So the concept of working on Thanksgiving day is not alien to me, and many have done it for years.

So recently, the media has been making a big thing of stores like Target, Best Buy, and even malls being open on Thanksgiving day. The media has pumped this up to such levels that a congressmen here in Ohio has suggested making a law that companies must pay workers triple the pay on Thanksgiving. Now as an ex-retail worker, this does kind of appeal to me … until I looked at the times I actually worked Thanksgiving.

First, retail workers are almost ALWAYS paid hourly. Sometimes you get extra hours on the holiday. For this reason, I already got paid more during the holidays than any other week, simply because I put in a lot of hours! I also got holiday pay, too. I really looked forward to the bigger check I would already be getting for these periods; my check was already double to triple the usual amount in those weeks.

Second, if the store is under a union contract, like the Meijer stores I worked at, you were already getting extra pay because you were working on the holiday, and that is typical in other union stores as well.

Third, there are many workers who work EVERY holiday including Christmas. These are people like doctors, paramedics, police, gas station attendants, grocery stores, sysadmins, clergy (in some cases) and, most importantly, our military. They don’t get extra pay.  It’s just known that they will have to work. Sure, not EVERY one of these people work on the holiday, but most do. It is their dedication that I love.  I love being able to get gas as I go to my holiday events, and I am sure those “disrespectful” heart attack patients like living as well.

Finally, from my perspective as an ex-retail worker, once I actually got on-site and started working, I really appreciated being able to work those days.  Why is this? The reasons are many.  One was the holiday pay. Another reason was the fact that the store really treated us well on that day; they would put together a meal for all shifts which was VERY appreciated especially when I was in college. Lastly, everyone I met on that day at the register was extremely nice and appreciative that we were open. We made it possible for people to grab that missed item that would make their feast a success, be it a missing bottle of wine, a can of evaporated milk for the pumpkin pie, or even milk for the mashed potatoes. The evenings would of course pick up, and while we were busy, it was actually one of the most fun days to work to me. I know not everyone enjoyed working on the holiday, and I would also gripe about it occasionally, but in hindsight I appreciated being there for the people who needed us the most. While I did miss my family, I felt good to be there for the customer. My time in retail has passed, and my life has changed; so would I go work retail now?  Not on your life.  However, if I had to, I would do it again because I really liked being there for people.

So do I think that it’s wrong for stores to open on Thanksgiving? In a word, no. So why do I say no? I look at it in two ways. First, this year has more stores that have hours on Thanksgiving than any Thanksgiving past. Many are trying it for the first time. If the customers think it’s a good idea, they will go!  If you don’t like it, and there are enough people who think like you do, then the stores won’t open on the holiday next year. However, if they make a large amount of sales on the holiday, then rest assured it will happen next year and the year after that … and then Thanksgiving will be just like every other holiday except perhaps Christmas. I know of many families that as a family plan their Black Friday and Thanksgiving day shopping.  Many make an event of it, and they’ll plan on shopping and spending all day together.  So, in a way, these stores help them to spend time together as a family. Is it ideal time together as a family?  Certainly not, but it makes them happy so who am I to judge? I, will not be shopping on Thanksgiving, but that’s MY choice. Do I feel sorry for those workers?  Some of them.  However I bet there are many who are just grateful and thankful to HAVE a job.

Working retail is a choice, just like being a first responder or other worker that must work the holiday.  If you don’t want to work a holiday and are looking at working retail, then you are making the wrong choice. If you are working in retail right now, and don’t want to work on the holiday, then you should do your best to get out of it. I was able to get out of it; I know it’s not always easy but it CAN be done. The choice is yours and yours alone.

What do YOU think? Will you be shopping at a store on Thanksgiving or on Black Friday? Are you doing online shopping? Are you boycotting shopping altogether for the holidays? Share below!

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About the Author

Joel McLaughlin
Joel is a consultant in the IT field and is located in Columbus, OH. While he loves Linux and tends to use it more than anything else, he will stoop to running closed source if it is the best tool for the job. His techno passions are Linux, Android, netbooks, GPS, podcasting and Amateur Radio.

12 Comments on "Thoughts on Retail Workers Working on Thanksgiving from an Ex-Retail Worker"

  1. I wholeheartedly disagree.

    1) Most retail workers aren’t guaranteed more than time and a half, which is nice, but hardly a king’s ransom.
    2) It’s very hard to unionize retail workers. So, again, most workers don’t have a union working for them, and even if they do, they don’t have much leverage as entry level workers.
    3) There’s a world of difference between essential services like police, fire, and EMT, and the desire to buy a t-shirt for $2 at Old Navy. Personally, I think it’s sad that we can’t hold off on rampant consumerism for one day.
    4) Retail can be a choice, or it can be the only available job for someone. When you’re working in retail, you work the hours they give you-weekends, nights, etc. To take away one of the two holidays most retail workers get (Christmas being the other) quite frankly sucks. If you want to keep your job, you likely don’t have a choice to not come in.

    This is one of the times that what’s for the good of a store’s bottom line and the desire to lure in customers is to the extreme detriment of the employees.

    • Must be my area? I dunno. This is my experience. I was in a union shop too so we got holiday pay and I think we even got time and a half as well. Meijer is a unionized in MOST places but not all and they do both Grocery and General Merchandise. NOT all workers are unionized though. UFCW is the union in my area that I belonged to. There are even some general merchandise stores here that are union as well. So maybe it’s my region. I know B&N aren’t and most places in the mall aren’t. However a lot of the free standing stores are. In this area we have Kroger, Meijer and CVS that are all union. What you get is all dependent on your contract.

      Where you work is ALWAYS a choice. You aren’t FORCED to work retail. It might be all you can get for a moment in time but as always it can be temporary. I worked one holiday at a non union retail place, Kohl’s if it matters and it was all I could quickly get at the time. I finally lucked out and got my first position at the college I currently work at soon after. I got out of it. You did too. I know my brother did as well and he doesn’t have a degree. So it’s possible even for people who don’t have a college degree like we both hold now. I didn’t have to work retail but I chose to because having a paycheck was better than nothing.

      I’ve been on both sides….I’ve volunteered to work (both in retail and not) on the holiday and been “forced” to work. I had one system outage (not in retail but definitely relevant) where I had to work 3 straight days without going home. I didn’t like it one bit but I had to work on the system when noone else was on it. So I just did it. Did it suck? Yup. Was I hurt by it? Possibly. Would I do it again? Absolutely. Why? Because I care and I wanted to get the job done.

      As for the consumerism…yeah I am with you there. I don’t quite get it myself but it’s their right. They can do it. I’m not shopping but not because I am against it. I’m not. If stores want to do it…more power to em. It’s not for me to decide. If you did ask me to vote for it? Well I would vote no because doing that would take away people’s freedom to do what they want. If laws get made because of this that means the little guy ALSO will get hurt too. If they are open on the holiday to begin with. 🙂

  2. I worked retail as a grunt in a grocery store when I was in high school and college; I moved up the ladder from courtesy clerk (a glorified name for bagger) to a nearly full time employee in what used to be called a grocery store’s “camera bar”. As an adult with a family, I also moved up from part-time clerk to full time salaried manager of a shoe store (let the Al Bundy jokes commence).

    I can tell you unequivocally that there is a *huge* difference between being a paycheck-happy kid who doesn’t necessarily want to hang out with the whole family for the holidays, thus taking the *option* to work on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, New Years Day, the 4th of July, Labor Day, Memorial Day, etc, with a guaranteed minimum of time-and-a-half hourly wage, versus having no choice but to work on any or all holidays with no extra pay because you are salaried member of management.

    Not every state has unions, and not every business allows its workers to unionize. There really is no one standing up for retail workers, and I feel pretty confident saying that for the vast majority of said employees, opting not to work on a holiday is simply not an option — if they care about keeping their job.

    Side note: In college, I was fired from a restaurant position because I wasn’t willing to work on a holiday; I was taken off the schedule and told that I “obviously didn’t need a job”. Well, I *did* need the job, but I also didn’t want to be in trouble at home. =/

    I submit that there is no reason (other than greed) for any store to be open on Thanksgiving or Christmas. If gas or last minute groceries are forgotten until the actual day of the holiday, then obviously better planning on the part of the consumer should have occurred. And if the consumer can’t better plan, then they can do without.

    And if a consumer seriously thinks that Thanksgiving is best spent at the mall or at some other store, then I kind of feel sorry for them, because it doesn’t sound like they have anywhere better to be. And if you can’t make it through a holiday without shopping, there is this crazy new-fangled invention called the internet. I hear that it is open 24/7/365. =P

    • Definitely.

      Something wise to think about… How many local stores were out of business by Amazon? Lots of them. It’s to the point that I can hardly get some things in a store now a days… 😉

  3. Joel, you write, “However, if they make a large amount of sales on the holiday, then rest assured it will happen next year and the year after that … and then Thanksgiving will be just like every other holiday except perhaps Christmas.”
    Question, would all of the same arguments you make here also hold for you with regard to shopping etc on Christmas?

    • An excellent question, and considering the immense sales Amazon enjoys on Christmas day as people fire up Kindles/spend gift cards, its not outside the realm of possibility at all.
      After all, what store wouldn’t want to get a jump on post-Christmas markdown sales/gift card redemptions/returns and exchanges? When I worked at Borders the day after Christmas was almost as nutty as Christmas Eve, because everyone with a book they wanted to exchange or gift card to redeem rushed out asap.
      Also worth noting that the one and only time I had a customer curse us out for closing was on Christmas Eve. He screamed at us that we were being unreasonable when we asked his family to leave an hour after our announced closing time.
      There’s definitely a market for extended Christmas Eve/Christmas Day hours. If thanksgiving hours pay off, Christmas Day shopping is definitely coming.

      • Yup. Sadly I see that as well Carly. Like I said…don’t like it…don’t go. I’m sure millions will go anyway.

        It also has me wonder…if Amazon’s system is up….do they have people working the support desk ont he holiday??

    • Would I? I don’t know. Possibly?

      • “This is the United States of America and part of why we are the way we
        are isn’t so we can dictate to people what you can or can’t do.” Unless, of course, you are the manager of any one of the said stores you mentioned that will be open on Thanksgiving or any other holiday. I don’t ever recall hearing any retail workers at Walmart, BestBuy, Old Navy, Target, etc being unionized. Chances are they do not get an option to work or not. They work or they risk losing their job.

        If you happen to be a full time worker in a Retail store that offers benefits like Vacation and Holiday pay, it would be quite a disappointment to lose those holidays.

        Also the statement “Where you work is ALWAYS a choice. You aren’t FORCED to work retail.” While may be true is easy and flip to say. There are plenty of circumstances when said retail position is the only viable option for a person so the option to just up and quit not so cut and dry.

        You also have to consider that opening on a nationally recognized holiday puts an added burden on working parents who have to find childcare on a day when most childcare services are closed. But hey, I guess we could also wright that off as the employees problem because no one forced them to have kids and they should have had adequate care and a decent job lined up before hand.

        • Hi Dann,

          I am with you…not all retail ARE unionized however there are may stores that are. I can’t answer for the non union shops. What I can say is that even some of the non union shops DO give time and a half. Maybe even holiday pay. Not all retail companies treat their people like crap. Some people would lose there jobs if they don’t work but then you generally know these conditions BEFORE you start working. Especially if you apply for the job now in the ramp up for the holidays.

          When it comes to child care…it IS the employee’s problem EVERY day..even when it’s NOT a holiday. The retail company only thinks about themselves and their shareholders. With that said, these care givers aren’t all closed and I bet it will be more frequent to see them open on the holiday as well since they will now have something they didn’t have before. Demand.

          The real problem is this: Some American’s only care about buying crap. While I DO buy things too (everyone does) I don’t go out JUST to buy things. I don’t spend money on things frivolously. Unfortunately MANY do. Until America gets over that then it will be like this.

  4. Consumerist ran this article yesterday, and as several of you know, I posted it to Twitter which then auto-sent it to Facebook, where it gathered some comments, one of them from a former BB Holiday Worker.

    Here is the Consumerist article …

    Let’s just say that after reading it, my opinion hasn’t changed; this is not a good thing.

Comments are closed.