Sunday, November 20, 2011

Black Friday... capitalist greed? Or just awesome?

So I read this interesting note on HuffPost about how Target is opening at midnight on Black Friday, and how one employee started a petition on Causes to beg them not to:

'"With the midnight opening, employees like myself will have to leave for work right in the middle of Thanksgiving Dinner," Hardwick said in a statement. "We don't mind hard work, but cutting into our holidays is a step too far."'

Now, I do have some sympathy to this idea. I worked both Thanksgiving and Christmas last year, at my old fast food gig, and both were some of the worst days of my life. My manager had refused to work either day (though, to her credit, it was because she'd worked both holidays for several years), so I was the person in charge both days. On Thanksgiving, our exhaust fans for our fryers stopped working, so we had to work in a smoke-filled kitchen for like 2 hours while we tried to flip various breakers, until a repair person came and cleared leaves out of the nook on the roof where the fans drew air. This was the only problem, but since it was Thanksgiving, you can bet that repair dude got paid BANK.

Now Christmas was really, really terrible simply because we were the only game in town. We were scheduled for a day that could be defined as busy but not outside the norm. What we got were $1000+ hours every single hour after 9 AM (to put this in perspective, for our store, having a $1000 hour lunch, from like 12-1, was really good and happened maybe once a week). Orders were taking a half hour to get out. Some were lost entirely. And I had a crew that, while very awesome and dedicated, were working full shifts without any of their legally required breaks, and there was no way this was sustainable.

And, of course, the store manager was not willing to come in. Because it was Christmas.

So I said fuck it. I made an executive decision and closed the store from 12 to 1 PM. Yes, the single busiest hour, on what turned out to be the single busiest day of the year. Everyone got their half hour breaks, we were able to re-stock stuff, clean up the dining room, do some dishes... believe you me, I didn't take a break that day (I worked a (mostly) voluntary 12 hour shift, because working a 12 hour shift on a holiday with no breaks is something you would get an Achievement for if life were a Steam game), and it was pretty much a shitfest again once we re-opened... but the point is...

I don't remember my point. That day SUCKED BALLS.

But it didn't have to (oh, yes, THAT was my point). In the example above, Target is not really making people work on Thanksgiving much (opening duties which start at 11 PM)... something I was required to do in my much shittier job... and the employees that do have to do any work on the holiday itself are getting holiday pay. And, yeah, working Black Friday also sucks balls (if you're a fast food place right next to a major Black Friday retailer, you're going to get
your ass kicked all day), but if a business plans well, not only can they make the bank that comes from being open on major holidays, employees can feel good about being at work instead of being with their families too. Here's how:

1. Holiday Pay: If you can't afford to pay time and a half for holidays, you should consider not being open for that holiday. During my time at the aforementioned Fast Food Gig, we were bought out from our corporate masters. This meant that employees who'd previously earned holiday pay under corporate would NOT get such under our new franchise masters (who pretty much ruined a perfectly nice workplace in many other ways). Also, they made us open 24 hours during the holidays, where previously we closed early on Thanksgiving and Christmas. People LOVE to earn time and a half without having to work 60 hours a week. If that means they work Christmas, then their family celebrates on the 24th that year. It's not the end of the world.

The point is, employees feel VERY differently about working holidays when you make it worth their while. If you offer holiday pay, employees will VOLUNTEER for shifts. That's a big difference than creating a petition against you.

2. Adequate staffing: Really, it's hard for me to see how food and retail get this so consistently wrong (wait, I totally get it, corporations are more concerned about executive salaries than being the best they can be on the ground), but if you're going to be open for a major holiday, you've GOT to staff with flexibility. In past years, when we opened late and closed early for holidays, we were dead. Sometimes, holidays are totally dead days. But if you're doing anything differently, or if the retail/eating situation in the town has changed (ie, bigger sales, fewer open eating places), you've GOT to over-schedule, and then send people home if you don't need them. I was fortunate not to have any employees walk out on me in either holiday I was PIC for, but I think that was more because of the terrible job situation of that town than my ability to make things work. It was a downright hellish day that December that I worked X-mas, and I'll never forgive either my manager or the franchisers for that.

It could have gone down differently if more people had been scheduled. But you should always remember this ironclad rule of holiday staffing: If you put people on the schedule, they can come in and you can send them home early. BUT YOU CAN NEVER CALL PEOPLE IN ON CHRISTMAS. They won't answer their phones. Would you?

Now, looking back to our friends at Target, it's hard for me to not agree with one commenter:

"I hope Target fires the guy who started this petition. I have seen people fired for a lot less. There is no way it is appropriate for this guy to be giving his company bad public press. I would fire him in a heartbeat."

Now, firing might be harsh (and might have NLRB implications if not handled property), but they're paying holiday pay and, honestly, are not even generally making people work on Thanksgiving. They're working Black Friday. And while I'm reluctant to use the argument about how if they don't like it, they can quit (given the state of the labor market), the fact is that working shitty hours is part of working retail, and as long as people like to buy stuff, that's not going away. These Target employees get to enjoy a full Thanksgiving meal with their loved ones and can still take a nap before heading off to work. That's a lot more than a lot of Shit Jobs employees get.

What do you think? Heartless corporation, or just a corporation giving it's employees more hours to work in an economic downturn?

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