Opinion Opinion L.A.

To the greedy retailers ruining workers' Thanksgiving: It's gonna cost you

Office supplies retailer Staples announced Wednesday that, for the first time, it would be opening its doors at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving this year.

Because who can wait until Black Friday for sales on office supplies?

Staples joins Toys R Us, which will open at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving, Kmart, which will open at 6 a.m. and stay open for the next 41 hours straight, as well as a host of other retailers that have decided Black Friday sales can’t wait until Friday anymore.

Workers across America should be thanking their lucky stars.

No, not because of the joy their ruined holidays will bring to bargain-happy shoppers — but because the slow creep of Black Friday into Thanksgiving is probably the single most effective public relations gift the labor movement could ask for in the fight for a living wage across America.

Black Friday protests for higher wages and against being forced to work on a national holiday have happened for a number of years. But it was last year, when companies such as Wal-Mart made a concerted effort to focus their sales on Thanksgiving day instead of the Friday after, that these protests began commanding major media coverage — and, more important, national sympathy.

Last year, workers in more than 100 cities protested outside Wal-Mart on Black Friday — one of  the most widespread actions to date against the labor practices of large retailers. Those rallies received international media coverage, largely due to the news peg that so many companies had forced workers to come in on Thanksgiving day.

Instead of fading after the holidays, as in years past, the movement for higher pay and fair working conditions only gained momentum. Throughout this year, Wal-Mart workers have rallied across the country for a minimum $25,000-a-year salary. They were joined over the summer by fast-food workers, who launched a nationwide strike in hopes of building public support for a $15-an-hour living wage. 

Just as retailers are starting their Black Friday sales earlier and earlier, organizers are starting their protests sooner too. Wal-Mart employees rallied outside the company’s Paramount store Wednesday in protest of low pay and unfair scheduling. 

These efforts have seen results.

In the last year, California has raised its minimum wage to $10. This week, voters in the Seattle suburb of SeaTac passed a measure to raise the base salary of airport-related workers to $15 an hour. The victory has emboldened labor advocates to begin pushing for a citywide $15-an-hour minimum wage across Seattle. The Washington, D.C., City Council passed a living-wage bill last September. The mayor vetoed the measure, but advocates are fighting to revive the effort.

Other municipalities will surely follow suit.

Unlike the Occupy movement, which in 2011 drew attention to the issue of income inequality but was largely dismissed due to the radical sentiments expressed by many of its members, these protests are something most Americans can sympathize with. Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday. Most of us can understand the desire to have one day off to spend with family — or, if we’re denied that time, the moral imperative to at least compensate workers fairly for their sacrifice.

If the Wal-Marts of the world are callously willing to ruin the holidays of millions of American workers, paying them nothing more than a pittance, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch when we hear workers complain they aren’t treated very well the rest of the year either.

So, retailers of the world, enjoy the few extra dollars you rake in from spoiling the holidays of millions of Americans.

Eventually, it’s going to cost you.


Don't let Kmart spoil Thanksgiving

In Washington, a crisis in competence

So long, Blockbuster, and thanks for the memories

Matthew Fleischer is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter @MatteFleischer.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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