Thanks, But No Thanksgiving

It may feel as traditional as leftover turkey, but it’s only been since the 1960s that retailers have named the day after Thanksgiving, when bargain shoppers hunt for discount goods like big game, "Black Friday." But this year, black could just refer to the pall cast on store employees’ holidays, which have been increasingly cut short in an effort to start the sales earlier and earlier.

In Nebraska, rumors of a Thanksgiving midnight opening at the Omaha North Target store where Anthony Hardwick has worked for the past three years first circulated on Facebook. By the time store managers confirmed that employees were scheduled to start their shifts at 11 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, the part-time parking attendant had taken matters into his own hands.

“There was a sense of inevitability about the whole thing,” Hardwick said. “Initially, I thought I’d like to start a petition to give to corporate to show how many team members and customers are against this.”

Hardwick argued that all hourly and salaried employees scheduled to work would have to hit the sack by 1 or 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving in order to make it through the 10-hour overnight shift, effectively robbing them of the holiday. From a petition Hardwick posted on the Web site,

A full holiday with family is not just for the elite of this nation — all Americans should be able to break bread with loved ones and get a good night’s rest on Thanksgiving!

Within hours, thousands had signed the petition. Inspired by Hardwick’s plea, employees at Best Buy, K-Mart and Toys ‘R Us (which will open its doors at 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving) had more than 100 petitions of their own calling for a true holiday.

“These companies are in this Black Friday arms race with each other and hiding behind customer wants,” says Brianna Cavo Cotter, communications director for, which hosts the petitions.

“It’s really struck a nerve,” she said. “It’s both customers and employees saying, ‘Enough is enough—give us Thanksgiving.’”

The pushback against retailers comes at a time when employees are especially vulnerable. Hardwick juggles his part-time gig at Target with a full-time job at Office Max, where he says he can at least put his BA in public relations to some use.

“I’m right in the middle of this crunch,” said Hardwick, who graduated from Park University, a small private university in Missouri, in 2009. “I took whatever I could get.”

On the Monday before Thanksgiving, Minnesota Target employee Seth Coleman delivered 192,000 signatures to the Minneapolis headquarters of the retail giant asking the store to return to a 5 a.m. opening on Black Friday.

Officials with Target insisted they were responding to customer demands with their early Black Friday opening and intended to stick with the midnight sale.

But Hardwick won’t be there.

“I’m not scheduled to work anymore, that Black Friday shift has been disappeared for me,” he said. “I’m going to go and spend Thanksgiving with my family and give thanks for the opportunity to do so.”