Too Many Workers Are Being Forced to Choose Between Holidays and Holiday Pay

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This Thanksgiving, families will be gathering around the table to eat surrounded by loved ones. Grandparents will sit in front of the television with their grandchildren in their laps, watching football or the annual Thanksgiving parade. Some may decorate trees and turn on Christmas carols to celebrate the start of that holiday season, while others will light their menorahs for Hanukkah.

Unfortunately, far too many families will be broken up, because someone will be forced to go to work or there won’t be any food on the table at all. More retailers than ever are opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day, using it as a means to extend the “Black Friday” shopping spree that companies use to shore up their yearly profits. Stores say they are reacting to consumer demand, andcriticism that they are allowing corporate greed to overtake the holiday season is just rolling off their backs.

Retailers are fully aware of the public relations disaster that more employees working the holiday is becoming for their own brands. As such, more perks are being given to employees taking those shifts to try to make working Thanksgiving seem like a treat rather than a punishment. Macy’s, which will be open on Thanksgiving for the first time, ever, is providing those who work in their stores that day with overtime pay, joining the ranks of all the other retailers offering the same. Many companies say they will offer discounts and meals as well.

The irony of potentially getting a meal at work as well can’t be lost on Wal-Mart employees, who, at one branch location were asked to donate food to their own co-workers who might not be able to afford to provide a Thanksgiving dinner to their own families this year.

Corporate PR entities are claiming that this has employees clamoring to work on Thanksgiving Day. That’s likely true. Sadly, they are probably eager to do so in order to see their hourly pay, which hovers in the $8 to $10 dollar range, increased to between $13 and $15 an hour, what most economic sources consider to be an actual living wage.

This leaves workers with families with a huge dilemma. Either they can leave their families for the day, heading into a retailer or other low wage paying job where they can spend the day earning an additional $50 – $150 dollars, money that could be used for presents, food or in many cases just to help make ends meet, or they can remain at home and celebrate the holiday like a number of those in the country who have the advantage of higher earnings, or even better, the luxury of paid holidays. For parents especially, the temptation to work is even greater since a holiday offers the likelihood of available relatives or friends who can provide childcare when most care centers and schools are closed.

Over one third of minimum wage earners are parents, making holidays a grueling choice between time with family and the need to provide. With consumers growing more anxious for the deep discounts offered by retailers on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and companies more and more desperate to make a profit during a still slogging economic recovery, it becomes a vicious cycle. Without strong holiday period sales, they don’t meet their profit outlook, which then gets reflected in hiring and pay. But they can’t get that without their workers, and to get the workers in, they have to offer them essentially the same wages that those workers should be receiving every day.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, a time for being grateful for abundance, let’s hope we all remember those who want to be with their families but can’t, and the economic system that has put them in that situation.