Kmart is Burdening its Employees with Ever-Increasing Black Friday Hours

I woke up extra early on Thanksgiving morning to report on the Kmart DOORBUSTER SALE that yanked store associates away from their families on the holiday. In light of weeks of hysterical marketing surrounding the cesspool that is Black Friday, you’d expect these people to have done some market research, wouldn’t you? But at 6:00a.m. on America’s biggest annual secular holiday, there were a total of seven people in line for the misleadingly-named DOORBUSTER at Kmart on Broadway in Lower Manhattan. And we couldn’t have stampeded each other to death if we tried. 

Look, I’m not lamenting the lack of crowds and violence. I much prefer desolate civility. But I do think it’s worth noting the utter pointlessness of forcing employees to forego their holiday to open a slumping retail giant before sunrise for the benefit of fewer customers than I’ve ever seen inside of a Kmart. Kmart was one of several national chains that decided to kick off their histrionic holiday sales this year on Thanksgiving Day rather than Black Friday. Think Progress reported two weeks ago that locations across the country were threatening their associates with termination if they refused to work on Thanksgiving Day. (An employee at the Lower Manhattan location confirmed to me that all employees were indeed required to work the holiday.) 

Sure, some employees were presumably glad to pick up extra hours billed at time-and-a-half holiday pay, but others weren’t - and for working parents whose kids were out of school, even time-and-a-half is likely to be offset by childcare costs. (The New York Times reports that Kmart employees earned $12 per hour, instead of their typical $8.) And based on the thin crowds, they were coerced into this for no reason. It wasn’t just Manhattan either - across the country,  Kmarts flipped on the fluorescent lights while it was still dark outside to pump “Here Comes Santa Claus” and hock “buy-one-get-one” fleece pajama sets to fucking no one. 

Kmart wasn’t the only retail chain whose performance fell short of expectations. A combination of slumping sales-per-store, politicization, extended-hour fatigue and split markets appear to have had an impact on national retail’s bottom line. Much publicized workers’ strikes and labor protests at 1600 Walmart stores certainly changed the tone of Black Friday shopping, although it is unknown whether vows to boycott the store and others resulted in a significant change in shopper numbers from 2013. Furthermore, since Black Friday deals now last several days longer than Black Friday itself, the relative uniqueness of Black Friday as a selling point is called into question. 

It’s not hard to imagine why retailers like Kmart are so desperate to lop longer and longer hours onto their employees. Kmart has opened on Thanksgiving for years, but has been pushing their opening hours earlier and earlier to stand out among competitors in the retail playing field. And “competitors” is a generous word, given how handily other retail chains seem to be beating them, Kmart has reportedly lost over $200 million in sales this year, and has recently closed over 70 stores. It seems only natural that a flailing beast would reach for whatever it could - and in this case, the Sears Holding Corporation appears to have sought salvation in the form of hyped-up extra hours and more flamboyantly pushed deals. But the bet didn’t pay off - and the employees seem to have shouldered a lot of the risk by being shaken down for their holiday time. 

I’m not so naive to think that Black Friday - or unethical treatment of labor - is going away anytime soon. But if a retail chain like Kmart is resorting to such draconian measures as threatening to fire employees for not working on Thanksgiving, then it seems wise to make sure that they’re derailing everyone’s personal lives for a remotely justifiable reason. Here’s hoping that next year, they give employees a choice. If a seven-person doorbuster crowd has to wait a bit longer in line, so be it - shoppers will understand. After all, it’s a holiday. 

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