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Black Thursday: Thanksgiving in the Consumer Wasteland

Dollars to doughnuts, the CEOs who are demanding their employees sacrifice their Thanksgiving celebrations with family are big “family values” guys.

Tony Rohr was the general manager of the Pizza Hut in Elkhart, Indiana, until just the other day, when the company decreed that his restaurant was to be open for business on Thanksgiving for the first time in Rohr’s long experience. For the sake of his own family, who wanted him to be with them for the holiday, and for the sake of all the other employees and their families, Rohr refused to do as they said.

Of course he was fired, but he went down swinging. “I am not quitting. I do not resign, however I accept that the refusal to comply with this greedy, immoral request means the end of my tenure with this company,” wrote Rohr in a scathing letter to his former employer. “I hope you realize that it’s the people at the bottom of the totem pole that make your life possible.”

And so Tony – who started as a cook and worked his way up the ladder – will sit down to Thanksgiving dinner with his family today not knowing where his next paycheck will be coming from. Mr. Rohr has become, in a uniquely American way, a martyr to the new normal in this country. Never mind the fact that Thanksgiving is probably the last day most people would think to frequent a fa-chrissakes Pizza Hut – the restaurant will spend more money having the lights and ovens on than they will make from customers, bank on it – and focus on the singularly vile practice of robbing workers of a long-cherished day with family in order to maybe make a few extra bucks.

It’s happening all over the place. Turn on a television, wait for the commercial break, and in no time you will hear something along the lines of CAN’T WAIT FOR BLACK FRIDAY? GOOD, BECAUSE WE’RE ALSO OPEN ON THURSDAY WITH STUFF AND DOORBUSTERS AND MORE STUFF AND LOOK AT ALL THIS STUFF YOU HAVE TO HAVE THIS STUFF OH MY GOD SO MUCH STUFF WHAAAARGARBL AND P.S. BLACK FRIDAY TOO!!!

From The Los Angeles Times:

At this rate, shoppers hoping to get in on “Black Friday” deals will have to eat their turkey for lunch, as both Target and Toys R Us announced plans to open Thanksgiving evening. In its earliest opening ever, Target said it will welcome bargain hunters at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 28, joining a veritable stampede of retailers, including Macy’s, J.C. Penney and Staples.

Target said most stores will stay open until 11 p.m. on Friday and also will stay open for at least 14 hours on Christmas Eve and 15 hours the day after Christmas. As for the employees running the holiday shift, Target said it “works closely with its team members to understand scheduling preferences” and pays such workers time and a half.

Gosh, thanks for that.

Black Friday may be important to the retailers who depend upon the orgasmic gush of consumer spending to put their earnings for the year “in the black” – where the term came from, if you didn’t know – but it has metastasized into perhaps the most gruesome display of everything that has gone sideways in American society.

Once upon a time, it was fun in its own odd way, I suppose, but now…now, people camp out for days in department store parking lots, risk stampedes, fist-fights and the occasional hail of gunfire in order to get their glutton on one day after a holiday dedicated to being thankful for what they have. Someone will die in a store on Friday over a flat-screen television or a power tool. That annual sacrifice upon the altar of More Stuff has become as predictable as the tides.

And now, that’s not enough. Now, they are forcing workers to give up this cherished holiday – and yes, “forcing,” because Tony Rohr can tell you everything you need to know about what happens when you refuse orders to work on Thanksgiving – in order to service the insatiable maw of American consumerism run amok. Dollars to doughnuts, the CEOs who are demanding their employees sacrifice their Thanksgiving celebrations with family are big “family values” guys. They will be with their families, you can sure-God count on it.

And yet, something to be thankful for: there is push-back. A handful of Whole Foods workers went on strike at two Chicago-area stores to protest being required to work on Thanksgiving. The supermarket chain caved, and the stores will remain closed.

More significantly, protests by workers at some 1,500 Walmart locations across the country are planned for Black Friday. The action has so thoroughly spooked the powers-that-be that a judge in Maryland has barred protesters from company property on Friday, presumably because the First Amendment is only for people who meekly submit to poverty wages, rotten working conditions and the surrender of beloved holidays like Thanksgiving.

Unfortunately, however, pretty much every employee of all the companies that have chosen to steal Thanksgiving will be forced to sacrifice their holiday and smile at sweaty, aggressive lunatics who actually think shopping on Thanksgiving is a positive good.

For the record, and not to put too fine a point on it: if you join the human crudwave of shopping on Friday, you are an asshole. If you actually endorse the theft of people’s Thanksgiving holiday by frequenting those open stores today, you are a Very Special Breed Of Asshole, a whole Bag of Assholes, with extra assholes on the side.

You are, among other things, supporting this:

One year after the Tazreen factory fire in Bangladesh, many retailers that sold garments produced there or inside the Rana Plaza building that collapsed last spring are refusing to join an effort to compensate the families of the more than 1,200 workers who died in those disasters.

A handful of retailers – led by Primark, an Anglo-Irish company, and C&A, a Dutch-German company – are deeply involved in getting long-term compensation funds off the ground, one for Rana Plaza’s victims and one for the victims of the Tazreen fire, which killed 112 workers last Nov. 24.

But to the dismay of those pushing to create the compensation funds, neither Walmart, Sears, Children’s Place nor any of the other American companies that were selling goods produced at Tazreen or Rana Plaza have agreed to contribute to the efforts.

The only way to stop all this is to make it unprofitable, and a good way to make it unprofitable is to stay home on Thursday and Friday.

As for myself, I will be with family and friends today, and tomorrow. My wallet will remain in my pocket. I devoutly hope the same can be said for you and yours. I will raise a toast to Tony Rohr, who tried to do the right thing for the workers under him and lost his job because of it.

Cheers to you, Tony. I place you high in my constellation of ordinary heroes who take a stand, and then take a hit, for all the very simple things most us know to be right and true and just, the things that are being stolen from us, one piece at a time.

UPDATE: Speaking of push-back, the Pizza Hut in Elkhart turned on a dime and offered Mr. Rohr his job back after taking a world of public heat. No word yet on whether Mr. Rohr has accepted their offer.

LATE UPDATE: From NBC News: “After being fired for refusing to open his restaurant on Thanksgiving, a Pizza Hut manager has his job back.”

Happy Thanksgiving.

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