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No Thanks: Retailers' holiday hours criticized

Chicago Tribune
Online campaigns oppose holiday shopping hours.

The shock of stores opening on Thanksgiving Day has worn off in recent years. But the practice continues to enrage some people, especially as some stores open even earlier on Thursday.

As of Wednesday, Change.org, an online petition platform, was reporting 71 petitions with 209,412 signatures calling on retailers nationwide not to open on Thanksgiving Day, for the sake of their employees as well as the sanctity of the holiday. Last year, 67 such petitions with 235,107 signatures were posted on the site the day before Thanksgiving, said Shareeza Bhola, communications manager at Change.org.

Thanksgiving hours are not the only issue rankling some workers and their supporters. Protests planned at Wal-Mart stores across the country, including one Friday on the South Side, will push for higher wages.

Joy Evans, 38, an Avondale teacher and mother of two children, signed one of the Thanksgiving petitions exhorting Target to let their workers eat turkey. Though her only personal relationship to the retailer is as a shopper, she said she feels "disgusted" by what appears to be a grab for money at the expense of employees.

"If you could just take a day off and let your employees rest, because the next day is going to be so busy for them," Evans said.

Admittedly, Evans said, she has gone to the movies after Thanksgiving dinner, but she does not feel as negatively toward cinemas and restaurants being open on the holiday.

"Things like dining out and spending time in a restaurant with family seem different to me than just going out and buying stuff," said Evans, who usually avoids Black Friday shopping, preferring instead to spend the day after Thanksgiving as what she calls "sloth day," watching bad movies and eating leftovers at home with her family.

The Facebook Group Boycott Black Thanksgiving, which has 114,000 likes, asks shoppers not to patronize stores that open on Thanksgiving Day and instead spend their money at stores that wait until Friday to open, a list that includes Nordstrom, GameStop and T.J. Maxx.

Some retailers tout their decisions to be closed on Thanksgiving as a point of pride. Oak Brook-based Ace Hardware released a statement saying it would be closed "so our employees and their families can enjoy time together giving thanks," as "some things are just more important than money."

Kmart is among the retailers receiving criticism for its Thanksgiving Day hours. This is the fifth year it will open at 6 a.m. Thursday, and it is staying open 42 hours until midnight Friday, an hour longer than last year. The retailer, which has been open Thanksgiving Day for 23 years, said it is "a destination for early-bird shopping and last-minute entertaining needs." It pays its employees time-and-a-half to work the holiday.

But in a petition on Coworker.org started by Jillian Fisher, the daughter of a Kmart employee, several dozen self-identified Kmart employees described being unable to have a say on whether they work Thanksgiving.

One part-time cashier at a Bridgeview Kmart, who asked not to be named for fear of being fired, said in an interview that her regular schedule has her off on Thursdays and Fridays, so she planned Thanksgiving dinner at her house and ordered turkey for 12 guests. She said she was shocked when she saw the schedule two Saturdays ago and learned she was scheduled to work 4-10 p.m. Thanksgiving Day as well as on Black Friday.

"I would have been more than happy to work up until noon on Thanksgiving, but they never asked me," said the cashier, who earns the $8.25 minimum wage. "I don't understand how they get away with that."

Jamie Stein, spokeswoman at Hoffman Estates-based Sears Holdings, which owns Kmart, said in a statement: "Our stores do their very best to staff with seasonal associates and those who volunteer to work holidays. Seasonal associates are told upon hire of our holiday store hours and we make every effort to accommodate associate shift requests during this time." She added that the company expresses "deep appreciation" for holiday workers.

The cashier, who does not want to tell her parents to eat Thanksgiving dinner elsewhere, said that if she's unable to swap shifts, she plans to call Kmart Thursday morning and let them know she won't be in.

"And they'll probably say, don't come back," she said. "But I have a feeling I won't be the only one doing that."

aelejalderuiz@tribune.com

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