by Randolph T. Holhut
December 15, 2011
FROM DEMOCRACY TO OLIGARCHY
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- In my three decades of journalism, I never minded working on holidays such as Thanksgiving. That's because it usually meant double overtime for working on a relatively quiet day.
While I had often had the option to say no, I always volunteered to work on those days to grab the overtime and give time to co-workers who needed to travel on the day off.
My family understood the logic of getting a big payday, and most years, I was able to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner at noontime and then go in to work the evening shift.
That is how civilized workplaces deal with working on holidays.
Unfortunately, the retail world isn't civilized. The rise of the ridiculous shopping frenzy on the day after Thanksgiving known as "Black Friday" has meant stores open earlier and earlier - in some cases, on Thanksgiving night.
One man tried to say "enough" to the trend.
Anthony Hardwick, a 29-year-old part-time Target shopping cart attendant from Omaha, Neb., led an online petition drive to stop the department store chain from opening its doors at midnight on Black Friday.
Nearly 200,000 people from around the country signed Hardwick's petition at Change.org, asking Target to push back its opening to 5 a.m., instead of opening at midnight for the first time in the chain's history.
Part of the reason for the request was personal.
According to The New York Times, Hardwick also works as a printing supervisor at an OfficeMax store. He makes $8.50 an hour at Target, and between his two part-time jobs, he earns about $25,000 a year.
"I'd have to be at Target from 11 p.m. until 4:30 a.m., then I'd have 30 minutes to scurry down to OfficeMax, where I was starting at 5 a.m.," he told the Times. "I used to be able to pull 24-hour shifts. I'd drink Red Bull. But now I'm 29, and I'm starting to feel it. I'd have to nap."
Massachusetts and Rhode Island are the last states to restrict retail stores from opening on Thanksgiving. In the other 48 states, it's business as usual, as Wal-Mart and other retailers have begun to push their Black Friday specials into Thanksgiving Day.
"A midnight opening robs the hourly and in-store salary workers of time off with their families on Thanksgiving Day," he wrote. "A full holiday with family is not just for the elite of this nation - all Americans should be able to break bread with loved ones and get a good night's rest on Thanksgiving!"
The petition got national attention, and Hardwick's supervisors at Target gave him Thanksgiving night off. But he still continued the petition drive, and last week, Target's corporate headquarters in Minneapolis received shopping bags stuffed full of signatures.
Target still opened at midnight on Black Friday, but Hardwick told the Times that he hoped that next year, Target would reconsider its early opening, or at least allow employees to opt out of Thanksgiving duty.
"This wasn't really about me," Hardwick said. "It's about my co-workers, my team members and anyone else in retail."
Of course, not everyone sees things Hardwick's way.
In one of the most arrogant, tone-deaf editorials to appear in a major American newspaper, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune wrote that Hardwick should "buck up," and that while his intentions are good, "when nearly 14 million Americans are unemployed, complaining about work hours is grossly self-indulgent."
The Star-Tribune's editorial failed to mention that Hardwick is working two retail jobs, and was earning just a bit more than the minimum wage. Or that Target Corp.is a major advertiser in their paper. They instead extolled the virtues of Black Friday, and how important consumer spending is to the U.S. economy.
"So please, protesting retail workers, stop whining about having to work holiday hours," the editorial concluded. "Be grateful to have a job."
And newspaper executives wonder why their circulation is plummeting. It's pro-corporate drivel such as this that drives away readers.
"Be grateful you have a job," are words that workers have been hearing for years as their pay and benefits are cut and are forced to work longer and harder for less and less reward.
It is the time-honored justification for treating workers as disposable. Don't like the conditions you're working under? Think you're underpaid? Shut up, or we'll shut down and move your job to China.
Fair wages and dignified working conditions. Is that too much to ask from our employers?
In this age of unbridled greed, yes it is.
This is why Occupy Wall Street was born, and why it follows in the long tradition of workers' movements in this nation's history.
Hardwick's polite request for a little extra time off on a holiday traditionally meant for family, friends and giving thanks is nothing more than a modern repurposing of the slogan born in the 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike: "Give us bread, but give us roses!"
Chief of AR Correspondents Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.