It’s Thanksgiving, the national holiday that’s been set aside by presidents going back to George Washington for Americans to come together once a year and argue about whether stores should be open.
If you’re like me, you’ve probably seen something like this, or several somethings, cropping up in your social media feeds:
“Because I believe in family, I pledge NOT to shop on Thanksgiving. If I’m shopping, someone else is working and NOT spending time with their family.”
It’s a noble sentiment, but for millions of American workers, a misguided one.
According to the most recent, though dated, research I could find, at least a quarter of Americans don’t have family within striking distance for a one-day holiday.
I’ve been there. Early in my career, I lived in Los Angeles and my parents lived in the tiny town of Round Mountain, Nevada, 425 miles north through several mountain passes that got pretty icy by late November.
I can tell you it’s no great celebration sitting alone in your apartment watching the Detroit Lions on TV. All in all, I’d rather have been working.
Most of the places I worked, young single employees drew lots to see who got to work on holidays, not who had to. Holiday shifts came with holiday pay — in our case, 2 1/2 times our regular daily wages. In the high-cost, low-wage world we lived in, it was like hitting a lottery ticket.
Even some employees who had families entered the drawings, because the extra pay meant they could buy nicer Christmas presents for their kids. And turkey dinner tastes just as good on Saturday as it does on Thursday.
Holiday pay’s getting harder to come by these days. Major retailers including Walmart and Target, which used to be open on Thanksgiving, ceased the practice during the COVID-19 emergency and recently announced that they won’t be opening their doors this Thanksgiving, or probably ever again. Other retailers are following suit.
Because, you know, family.
“Staying closed for the first time on Thanksgiving Day 2020 helped us take care of our team and guests during the pandemic,” wrote Target CEO Brian Cornell in a Nov. 8 message to his troops. “But once I heard from team members how much they appreciated that time with their families, it was an easy decision to make the policy permanent.”
That letter followed an October video by a checkered-shirted Walmart U.S.A. CEO John Furner. “We want you to spend that day at home with family and loved ones,” Furner says, voicing over idyllic cutaway shots of overdressed multigenerational families around lavishly decorated tables in designer homes, toasting (I suppose) how lucky they are to work at a Walmart.
It’s always interesting when the people at the top project their experiences on the lower ranks. As the smiling CEOs tell us how pro-family they are, bear in mind that they’re making $17 to $24 million a year and won’t have to pay their workers holiday pay. Maybe that’s why they’re smiling.
Also, the day after Thanksgiving’s an all-hands call at their stores, so those employees will have to report at oh-dark-30 to prepare for hoards of Black Friday doorbuster shoppers.
To my friends in retail whose families live far away, and who won’t be getting extra pay this year, have the best Thanksgiving Day you can.
The Lions are much better this season, so it should be a pretty good game.