Anyone, especially someone who has worked in radio as well as fans of pretty good TV, will remember the show WKRP in Cincinnati, which ran from 1978 until 1982. A classic episode was called “Turkeys Away.” Mr. Carlson, AKA the Big Guy, decides to create a big Thanksgiving Day promotion. He gets a helicopter with a banner attached to it saying "Happy Thanksgiving from WKRP” and drops live turkeys from the helicopter. This obviously created a less than celebratory reaction on the ground as the turkeys plummeted earthward. A classic line from that show is uttered by Mr. Carlson who confesses he thought turkeys could fly.
This year another misguided effort related to Thanksgiving is taking place—a movement comprised of people against shopping on Thanksgiving, supposedly out of deference to employees who would have to work that day. While I totally agree with supporting the employees who want to stay home with their families, I’m pretty sure not all employees want that day off. I have worked for the hourly wage (which will go to $9 an hour on Jan 1 in Massachusetts, a raise from the current $8 an hour), and being one who would have missed the money by not being paid for a day, I worked. Many employers, especially in retail and hospitality, are open on holidays and conduct business as usual. Workers are expected to work holidays and are typically paid their normal pay rate, but it is pay they would not get staying home. Instead of a shopping “strike,” the real focus should be on these workers getting paid and paid fairly.
Kmart offends me. Kmart will open at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day (if local blue laws don’t prevent it) and remain open for 42 hours, meaning that many employees will have to come to work. The company says it tries to fill shifts with volunteers or seasonal hires, but workers report that the reality is very different. Kmart has said that any employee who doesn’t come to work will be fired. If you were struggling to support a family or a student with a $100,000 loan to pay off, what would you do? You would work, and after Thanksgiving, deal with all the seasonal mayhem (or should I say turkey and ham?) that continues for employees on Black Friday and Cyber Monday and throughout the holidays that pad the pockets of the CEOs.
As for the protesters, I wonder how many of these non-shoppers will go to restaurants, buy gas, go to a movie, or pick up something at a convenience store on Thanksgiving? If they’re going to avoid shopping, they should also refuse to patronize other establishments with, perhaps, the exception of mom and pop stores, each of which can choose to be open if these owners wish to work.
I don’t know how to fix this situation, but while the protestor’s heart is in the right place, I do know Joe and Mary Worker will have to work on Thanksgiving. Somehow companies like Kmart need to be brought down and retail workers need to be treated fairly, but I’m afraid this “Don’t Shop on Thanksgiving” knee-jerk initiative won’t do it. Like the elections, which attracted only 40% of voters, nothing will change with this effort and some, like a mom working to feed her children, might actually be hurt if they can’t work.
There are more thoughts on this and other things on the shores of Rambling Harbor. Join me there and give the podcast a listen.