Toys R Us Worker Reveals All: Black Friday Is Ruining Thanksgiving

The annual shop-a-palooza keeps getting earlier, and that means minimum wage workers won't get to spend the holiday with their families.

Employees gather before the midnight opening at a Best Buy in San Diego on Nov. 25, 2011. (Photo: Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

Nov 22, 2013· 2 MIN READ
Solvej Schou writes regularly for TakePart, and has also contributed to the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times,, and Entertainment Weekly.

Sarah has been an employee of Toys R Us for more than a decade in California. She’s also faithfully worked every Black Friday—that frenzied American tradition of day-after-Thanksgiving sales shopping—every year since she joined the mass retail chain.

[Editor's Note: TakePart has confirmed the identity of Sarah and is using an alias to protect her from employer retaliation.]

Ten years ago, Black Friday started at her store at 6 a.m., with shoppers joyfully shoving and grabbing toys left and right, even out of one another’s carts. Workers, as at other retail chains, had Thanksgiving off to spend with their families and rest before the plunge into the abyss of restocking depleted shelves and helping crazed customers the next morning.

When do I have time with my family? Do I get a Thanksgiving? You get a Thanksgiving lunch.

In the past five years all that has changed, and dramatically, Sarah said. Black Friday hours have shifted earlier and earlier into Thursday, making Thanksgiving a distant memory for store employees who already make low wages and have limited time with their families.

Half the employees at Sarah’s Toys R Us location work two jobs. Kmart, for the first time, is opening its doors at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving and staying open for 41 hours straight. Best Buy, Target, Walmart, Macy's, Kohl's, and J.C. Penney will all be open Thanksgiving evening.

“Throughout the whole store, it used to be the customers were all pumped up and excited to get there,” says Sarah.

While that excitement could be tough to deal with, Sarah says that even with the nicer, less-spazzed-out customers who would show up the night before Thanksgiving, the stores just weren't busy enough to justify ruining Thanksgiving for workers.

“We have 20 cashiers and only one customer,” she said.

The old practice of opening the store at 6 a.m. on Friday became opening at 4 a.m., and then midnight, and then 10 p.m. Thursday, and then, last year, 8 p.m., says Sarah. This year, Black Friday at Toys R Us starts at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

Toys R Us stores are now only closed one day of the year, Christmas Day, because the chain has remained open on Easter the past three years. This is the first year she and other workers will earn time-and-a-half holiday pay for working Thanksgiving.

Sarah’s shift runs from 4 p.m. to midnight.

“Everyone is like, ‘Why do we have to come in early? When do I have time with my family? Do I get a Thanksgiving?’ You get a Thanksgiving lunch,” says Sarah. “Because I’ve worked there so long, I just expect it. But starting at 5 p.m., I’m still upset by it.”

Retail giants cite a shorter holiday calendar season and the need for profits within a still shaky consumer-based economy as reasons for extending Black Friday hours, but labor rights activists see the trend as a scary sign of the times.

Victor Narro, a project director at UCLA's Center for Labor Research and Education, says he will be part of a nationwide protest against Walmart stores on Black Friday and suggests consumers do their part too if they care about low-wage retail employees.

“Outlets are maximizing their profits on the backs of workers, but how much will their profits affect workers?” asks Narro. “Are workers getting anything in return? If they stand up, they can be fired. Thanksgiving is a sacred holiday, for people to be with their families. We have to do our job as consumers and not shop on Thursday.”

Sarah feels nostalgic for Black Fridays when customers stood in early morning lines snaking through the parking lot and playfully fought over Elmo dolls and PlayStations. On Thanksgiving, fewer people come in, and some walk in tipsy straight from wine-filled holiday meals.

“Now, with opening up at 5 p.m. Thanksgiving, it’s going to fail,” she says. “People will still be eating, and the store will be wasting man hours. Have a true Black Friday. Open at midnight. Open at 4 a.m. Let us be with our families before the madness hits.”