Big Box Workers’ Lament: Voices From Thanksgiving Retail Hell

Walmart and Target employees fill a comment thread with rage over mandatory labor on national day of gratitude. Some language NSFW.

Walmart workers on strike walk a picket line during a protest over unsafe working conditions and poor wages in Pico Rivera
Workers at Walmart and other big retailers are rebelling on the eve of Black Friday. (Photo: Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters)
Matt Fleischer was awarded a Fund for Investigative Journalism grant for his series “Dangerous Jails.”

You’ve all seen the Thanksgiving weekend shoppers rush—the gathering hordes, the dangerous crush of people, the outraged shouts of those who missed out on the toaster of their affection. Yes, the great turkey slaughter is approaching, which means the time is nigh when Americans will line up outside Big Box retailers for post-Thanksgiving “Black Friday” savings.

In years past, Americans have died from from being trampled at these events. Others have received a faceful of pepper spray while fighting over video games. And yet, retailers are not only continuing the tradition, they’ve decided to expand it. This year, Target, Walmart and a host of other retail stores have decided 24-hours of Black Friday isn’t enough—they’ve pushed their massive sale into Thanksgiving Thursday.

When I first heard about this decision I was livid. As a person with a checkered resume that includes service work, I realize that certain businesses—hotels, gas stations, taxi services—need to be open on Thanksgiving. Retail is not among that group.

MORE: Quick Study: Stressed at Work? You May Be Risking a Heart Attack

To my mind, it is an obvious injustice that thousands of retail workers in America would be forced to spend the national day of gratitude and togetherness away from their families—for no other reason than corporate greed. So I created a petition and posted it on the social news site Reddit. My petition calls for a boycott of big retail stores that open on Thanksgiving.

The petition didn’t really go anywhere, but the Reddit post did. Hundreds of retail workers from across the country weighed in on the comment section about what it’s like to work a Black Friday event, and how this year’s decision to move the event to Thanksgiving is impacting them and their families. In their honor, here are a few choice tales of Thanksgiving retail hell.

runt_a_saurus – [I wanted] to share some horrors of Walmart Black Friday (oh, and we aren't allowed to call it that anymore, its new name is "The Event"). I'm an overnight associate in California and our managers just informed us that every member of our night crew is required to work and work a twelve-hour shift at 7pm Thanksgiving night to 7am Friday morning with two half hour lunches. It really is getting more and more ridiculous with every new year. Most everyone I know will not be able to do anything for Thanksgiving because we have to sleep most of the day. Their form of an incentive? An extra 10% on top of our normal 10% discount on one purchase during that weekend. Guess what assholes, we will be too busy slaving for you to purchase anything. Ah, retail...

Jbanar -- As a former Walmart worker, there was no such thing as Holiday pay. They'd just cut hours to make it so you still only made your typical paycheck. And while they were cutting hours, every department was understaffed, so the fact that you got more time off couldn't even be enjoyed.

purevanity -- As a Target employee…this was supposed to be my first thanksgiving with my boyfriend and his wonderful family. My own family is all back in the Midwest as I am on the west coast now. I haven’t had a real thanksgiving in over 4 years. I found out yesterday that I am being forced to work on Thanksgiving since we are not allowed to request any time off until after January 12th.

Equivocal_Me -- I work for the largest music/movies/books vendor nationally (that services Walmart) Monday on a conference call they informed us that it is mandatory that we are in the stores on Thanksgiving, and even had the nerve to joke "Guess everyone will have to have a nice Thanksgiving breakfast!" Wanted to confirm that we get paid time & a half they said no. So on the 21st I'm calling to say fuck you I quit. My heart goes out to all who are enslaved by retail- I feel very fortunate to be in a position where I can escape at this time. If you are out shopping on Thanksgiving YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.

angieohno -- I work at Walmart and this Thanksgiving I'll be there from 2-11pm so I'll miss dinner with my family just like I have the last two years. We have sales starting at 8pm Thanksgiving Day, so unlike the last few years we'll be having people lining up pretty damn early to get into these slaughter house-esque lines. One minor thing is please, PLEASE don't say, "Oh you poor thing, having to work on Thanksgiving!" to us because, guess what, the only reason we have to work on thanksgiving is because you're in there shopping. We sort of resent you as is from keeping us from our families, tacking that sort of thing on top of it all is just grounds for seething inner rage.

MCfreckles -- What's depressing is that my boyfriend and I live in Oregon and our family is in California. He works at 8pm Thanksgiving so not only will we be far from our families, but he’ll be working and/or sleeping most of the day so I’m basically spending it alone. Thanks Target.

ItsKirbyTime -- Former movie worker here. They gave us longer, busier hours, but no holiday pay. We actually did work more hours, but didn't get overtime because movie theaters are exempt from overtime pay. It sucked. The only thing that made it slightly better was the nice marketing lady who would bring in holiday food for everyone. Then they fired her and there was no food.

There are plenty more, nearly 2,000 comments and counting. Read them at the risk of bumming yourself out.

That said, there’s plenty of evidence that the big box retailers’ Thanksgiving gambit is backfiring. Retail workers across America are threatening to walkout or strike. Consumers too, aren’t thrilled with the fact that their desire for savings could ruin someone else’s holiday. This note couldn’t be a more terse but fitting coda.

thesilence84 -- Decided that we as a family weren't going to do [Black Friday] this year as a result of the 8pm thing. Thanksgiving was the ONE holiday you couldn't commercialize. But those stupid fucking big box retailers kept finding ways around it... Pushing the Christmas season further and further back... And now. Black Friday starts on Thursday at 8pm. You know what? Fuck you and your goddamn greed. I'm done. I'll spend 20 extra bucks and not freeze my ass off and spend time with my family instead. I hope it flops miserably.

Will you be buying into Black Thursday shopping madness, or do you have plans to be giving thanks? Say where you will be in COMMENTS.

Comments ()