Daily Meme: Seasonal Shopping Disorder

  • The holiday season is upon us! Which means that companies are going to spend the next month and a half treating their workers even worse than usual. 
  • Fortunately, the National Labor Relations Board is finally staffed up, and the Labor Department's new head, Thomas Perez, is expected to put up a good fight for workers too. 
  • On Monday, the NLRB made headlines by telling Wal-Mart it needed to stop firing its protesting workers, which is illegal. The ruling means that more workers might feel emboldened to fight back on Black Friday, the unofficial national holiday that is unquestionably the bane of every retail worker's existence. 
  • Wal-Mart has been pre-emptively striking back by waging an ambitious marketing campaign, featuring TV spots soaked in smiling faces and so saccharine that they must turn the stomachs of Scrooges everywhere.
  • Some retailers are forcing their workers to punch in before the turkey's even cold on Thursday, but not all—Costco and Nordstrom, among a few others, are staying closed until Friday.
  • Some of the retailers who are staying open are enticing employees to work undesirable shifts with extra cash and discounts. Which would probably attract volunteers to these shifts, given these corporations' already dismal wages.
  • And anyway, Wal-Mart says that the million-plus workers who will have to work on Thanksgiving are “really excited to work that day.”
  • Again, probably because they make so little money that some coworkers are raising money and donating food so that some of their fellow Wal-Mart employees get to even have a Thanksgiving dinner.
  • As Stephen Colbert sums it up: "Some critics out there say Walmart isn't doing enough, but they're wrong, because Walmart isn't doing anything. These bins are for Walmart employees to donate to other employees. And where can Walmart's low-wage workers find cheap food to donate? Walmart."
  • (It's important to note that it isn't just retail employees who face the crunch this time of year. All low-wage workers have an especially difficult time making ends meet in December.)
  • Meanwhile other stores, like Kmart, are prohibiting workers from taking time off around the holidays. 
  • Big box retailers usually hire tens of thousands of seasonal workers to prepare for their most wonderful profits of the year.
  • And given the number of people who are unemployed or underemployed right now, there is a ready pool of people, young and old, to take these jobs, even though they know they'll get the boot come 2014.
  • There is an upside to all this miserable news for workers and the unions that house them, though: "The slow creep of Black Friday into Thanksgiving is probably the single most effective public relations gift the labor movement could ask for in the fight for a living wage across America."
  • And unions and nonprofits are planning to take advantage of this fact by trying to mobilize the biggest series of strikes and protests in history.
  • Wal-Mart and Target employees are planning walkouts on Black Friday (400 workers went on strike on the biggest shopping day of the season last year), and strikes have been popping up around the country in the warm-up to the holiday season.
  • It all sounds exciting, but, a bit of perspective. As one management consultant toldForbes, "People talk a big game, but history has shown again and again when it comes down to it, most are not going to change their behavior or preferences absent a major impetus, which I don’t see here. Walmart is the most convenient and biggest place to shop and will still, generally, have a price advantage due to its bargaining and purchasing power and economies of scale. Especially this time of year, people are stupidly price-sensitive. Fact of the matter is that most people talk about affecting change or being outraged by whatever corporate misdeed happens to be in the news, but very, very few actually vote with their wallets.
  • Labor has never had it easy, and they're continuing to fight despite the long odds. 
  • They're still optimistic too. One professor at Occidential College thinks "the history books will look at this Black Friday protest as a major turning point in American history, similar to the Triangle Fire and the Flint sit-down strikes of 1937 against the auto companies."
  • We'll see. Regardless, our country's low-income or precariously employed workers could use a bit of good news. 


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