Kmart Workers Are Latest to Push Back on Thanksgiving Hours

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Kmart Employee on Black Friday
An employee carries a flat screen television at a Kmart store in the Bronx borough of New York, on Nov. 25, 2011. Photographer: Jin Lee/Bloomberg

Almost 5,000 people have signed a petition calling for Kmart to ensure that its workers have enough time off on Thanksgiving, part of a backlash against retailers that are open during the holiday.

“We understand that it is retail, and employees understand that they have to work hours on holidays,” the campaign’s organizer, Jillian Fisher, said on the website coworker.org. “However, Kmart’s unnecessary hours are forcing its employees to miss out on important time with their families.”

Retailers such as Macy’s Inc., J.C. Penney Co. and Target Corp. are extending their Thanksgiving hours this year, prompting some workers to push back. The chains say they’re opening on the holiday because shoppers demand it, and they’ll lose sales if they don’t.

“Workers have lives. We also know that workers want hours,” Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale & Department Store Union, said in an interview this week. “We’re not saying that the stores shouldn’t be open, but what we are saying strongly is that the people who work that day should have the option of choosing whether or not to work.”

In a phone interview, Fisher said her mother, Donna, has worked at Kmart, a unit of Sears Holdings Corp., for 21 years, including on Thanksgiving. Last year, her mother and other workers were required to work a split shift during the holiday, Fisher said, which prompted her to start the petition last week. This year, her mom received her requested hours of 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Fisher said.

Customers’ Needs

In response, Kmart said it helps customers as a place for early-bird holiday shopping and last-minute Thanksgiving needs. The chain has operated on Thanksgiving for 23 years, with stores opening at 6 a.m. for the past four years. This year, stores will operate for 42 hours straight, until midnight on the Friday after Thanksgiving. That’s up from 41 last year.

Holiday hours can serve struggling consumers, Appelbaum said. “If you have two jobs and you have a time when you’re not working, this may be a great opportunity for you to go shopping,” he said.

“Our stores do their very best to staff with seasonal associates and those who volunteer to work holidays,” Kmart said in an e-mail. “Seasonal associates are told upon hire of our holiday store hours and we make every effort to accommodate associate shift requests.”

Drawing Protests

RadioShack Corp. scaled back its Thanksgiving hours last week after workers complained. Some consumers also are taking issue with the holiday becoming a major shopping day. A Facebook page called “Boycott Black Thursday” is urging shoppers to avoid retailers that open on Thanksgiving.

“I don’t want to tell Kmart how to run their business -- I just think that we need to be more reasonable in how we handle it,” said Fisher, 25, who lives in Wilmington, Delaware. “It’s causing a great burden on their employees, which is causing a great burden on their families as well.”

Appelbaum said many workers have no choice whether to work on Thanksgiving. “Even if a company says it is voluntary, let’s put that in quotes,” he said.

Whole Foods Market Inc. this year is boosting Thanksgiving pay to double-time, from time-and-a-half, after workers at two Chicago stores last year demonstrated against mandatory holiday work, said Jose Rodriguez, 27, who works in customer service at one of the stores. The company has also stressed that working on the holiday is voluntary, Rodriguez said this week in an interview.

Kate Lowery, a Whole Foods spokeswoman, didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment.

Fisher said she has heard from dozens of Kmart employees who haven’t received the hours they requested, and many of the comments on the website reflected that concern.

Kmart said worker schedules are typically posted two weeks in advance.

“All associates are compensated time-and-a-half pay for the hours they work on Thanksgiving Day,” the company said.

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