Working on Thanksgiving - We're All Part of the Problem

Thu, Nov 21, 2013 with tags thanksgiving , shopping , rants

The days are once again getting depressingly short here on the East Coast. It’s barely light out when I enter my office in the morning and it’s completely dark by the time I leave. This means only one thing - the Christmas shopping season is upon us.

This year, like it has been since K-Mart first decided to be open on Thanksgiving sometime in the 1990’s, a spattering of retail stores have chosen to open up to consumers on Thanksgiving evening and stay open round the clock until late the next night. Can’t you just taste the delicous frenzy of consumerism?

Also, this year, just like previous years there are people who believe it’s a travesty that the stores are open on Thanksgiving. Surprisingly the cries from both the left and the right are similar - “the workers shouldn’t have to work on Thanksgiving!” - although the reasonining is fairly different. The left believes it to be a workers right issue while the right often sees as a sign of the decline of the nuclear family unit. After all, if Mom or Dad need to be at work at 6pm on Thanksgiving then they’re not going to be hanging out with their family and eating food and watching football.

But here’s the rub - people act as though retail workers are the only people who would ever need to work on Thanksgiving. Yes, Walmart deciding to open at 6pm will require hundreds of thousands of people to go to work on Thanksgiving evening. I, honestly, don’t think that’s going to make much of a dent in the number of people working. Here’s why:

We live in a connected society. When we’re spending a relaxing Thanksgiving at home we’re still doing activities that require people to be at work. Turkey Trots on Thanksgiving morning have become almost a rite in the course of the past decade. These races require large numbers of law enforcement and medical personnel to either work or “volunteer” to work the races. If you’re at home you’re almost certainly using electricity, which means that there needs to be a small number of people at the power plant. Those Football games don’t just happen, they require thousands of people to make a successful event - from the players, to vendors, to parking staff, to the crews in the trucks that make sure the production goes off without a hitch. If you think that you’ll clear you conscience by shopping on Amazon instead you should know that someone is wearing a pager and probably getting a phone call because the crush of people like you is going to cause some system to fail. Ditto if you decide to sit down and watch Netflix.

In fact, nearly everything we do on a daily basis requires someone to work. That’s not a terrible thing - that’s just how society works. To act like folks are suddenly shocked because retail workers have to work on Thanksgiving evening is missing a huge part of the issue. We’ve long had people working behind the scenes on Thanksgiving, now we’ve got a lot more people working in the front. So, before you say that “everyone deserves a holiday”, you should ask yourself if you’re really more concerned about the welfare of the worker and his/her family, or if you’re trying to cover up for your own guilt in being part of a larger problem of an interconnected society.