Jdimytai Damour, a 34 year old Walmart employee who was killed while attempting to control the crowds before the Black Friday sales begun in 2008. Image courtesy of Chael Montgomery By Amy Spekhardt The United States’ federal holidays are days of refle …
By Amy Spekhardt
The United States’ federal holidays are days of reflection for every citizen within its borders and scatter across the globe to remember the history and traditions of the nation that they call home. This Thursday is one of the most important holidays to all American citizens. Thanksgiving Day can be seen as the holiday that represents the core beliefs of all Americans. The ideas of thankfulness and family are something that causes each individual to evaluate their lives and value their own existence. However, the iconic American holiday is currently under attack by retailers looking to gain any advantage during the holiday shopping season. The social and corporate tradition of Black Friday shopping is now threatening the very essence of Thanksgiving and is especially punishing American workers.
The modern Thanksgiving Day is modeled after the first day of thanks celebrated by the Pilgrims for their continued survival at the Plymouth Plantation in 1623. From George Washington until Abraham Lincoln there were sporadic Thanksgiving celebrations until it became a national holiday in 1862. Thanksgiving became a paid holiday for federal government workers in 1870 and this tradition has continued for government workers with the private sector also closing their enterprises for the day. However, Black Friday is only a recent phenomenon that was coined in the 1960s and since the early 2000s has recently imploded to today’s chaos. Black Friday profits are now taking over the North American holiday that has been celebrated in some form since 1578.
The social tradition of Black Friday has now officially violated the essence of Thanksgiving Day. Many stores across the United States are starting their Black Holiday Sale at 6pm on Thanksgiving, with KMart openings its doors at 6 am. These start times will realistically lead many individuals to forgo the traditional family style meal and instead stand in line hours before the stores open. Retailers have attributed the earlier opening times to demand from shoppers. Yet by giving into this ‘demand,’ retailers are sacrificing their employees for a higher profit margin and a jump start on the holiday shopping season. A prime example of retailers buckling to the demands of shoppers is Macy’s, who will for the first time be open on Thanksgiving Day. Many Americans are not considering the effect these earlier hours will have on the workers of each store that is opening for business and they especially forget that workers are expected to forfeit their holiday.
Many workers at retail chains, such as KMart and Walmart, are unable to request any time off during the Thanksgiving holiday week. Each employee is unable to dictate their own schedule which causes a larger ripple effect on others. Many American families will be affected by an employee’s scheduling on Thanksgiving. Plans will have to be changed as soon as the scheduled was released with many employees and their family members unable to see their extended family for the holiday. Many employers are stating that their employees will nonetheless celebrate Thanksgiving. Walmart is especially emphasis this point by offering their employees working Thanksgiving the traditional holiday meal. But in reality, employees want to spend time with their families and not their co-workers.
Although many workers are rightfully troubled about working on Thanksgiving Day, many employees are more concerned about the mobs of customers that have wreaked havoc and chaos on retailers for the past decade. Over the past years, retail employees have incurred injuries that go far beyond the ‘normal’ workplace wounds. In 2008 Jdimytai Damour, a 34 year old Walmart employee, was killed while attempting to control the crowds before the Black Friday sales begun. The incident was investigated by OSHA, the section of the Department of Labor for enforcing workplace safety, and fined Walmart the maximum $7,000 for willfully failing to adequately control the crowds. The fine was upheld after an appeal by Walmart that produced 4,700 hours of legal preparation and Walmart has yet to pay the fine despite sales of $466 billion in the last fiscal year.
In addition to Damour’s death in 2008, workers have been pushed down to the ground, trampled and threatened. Since 2009, Walmart has launched a new crowd control plan and employees have received additional training for handling shoppers. However, it is Walmart policy to never touch a customer under any circumstances. Walmart’s Black Friday policies are contradictory and leave gaps in employees’ safety. Over the past 2 years on Black Friday two people were shot over a parking spot at a Florida Walmart and 20 people at a Southern California Walmart were pepper sprayed over a discounted Xbox 360. With employees unable to protected themselves and violence escalating every Black Friday, workers are constantly risking their safety far beyond any tolerable ‘occupational hazard.’
The long standing American tradition of Thanksgiving Day has always been a point of pride for American citizens. However, the social phenomenon of Black Friday is destroying the very essence of the most quintessential American holiday and endangering workers throughout the country. Every American citizen has to be educated on the travesties that will occur in the next coming days and help end the abuse and risk that workers are going to face on Black Friday. Thanksgiving is a holiday that every American should wait for with anticipation instead of fear and dread. American workers, history and traditions need to be shown more respect by employers and the American public.
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