Opinion

This Thanksgiving, think about retail workers

Thanksgiving ought to be a time for all Americans to relax and enjoy themselves.

For salaried workers and for most two-income households, working on Thanksgiving or Christmas is the exception, not the rule. However, for minimum-wage workers and those without job security, staying home is simply not an option.

Workers who boycott or refuse to work on holidays often face intimidation or fear the loss of their jobs. There is no grievance process, union or human resources department eager to take up their cause.

Entry-level managers are often in the same boat as workers, as they have very little job security and are in no position to close stores. Those hefty decisions are made in corporate offices by salaried employees whose chief concern is the financial bottom line, rather than the workers.

And some workers need the extra pay that holiday time affords.

Working on a legally recognized holiday can increase your pay for that day by nearly 50 percent. If you clock in every legal holiday, you can add up to a week’s pay to your annual income.

The average minimum wage workers earn just $13,920 annually, a little more than half of the federal poverty rate for a family of four, which stands at $23,850. For families struggling to make ends meet, missing a day of work can mean going without food, life-saving medication, electricity and, at this time of year, presents under the Christmas tree.

For low-income individuals, Black Friday is not only a time to snag a great deal on televisions or game consoles, it is also a time to stock up on necessities like hats, gloves, shoes, and coats – many of the items that may be priced out of reach during any other time of the year. Shopping the day after the holiday is not sport but what must happen to ensure that meager earnings stretch as far as they can.

More than any time of the year, the holiday season reveals the extreme economic inequities and cleavages in our society. The disparities are hard to miss with the hordes of canned food drives and calls to give to the less fortunate, which ironically often include our friends, neighbors and local checkout clerks.

Raising the minimum wage would help ease the pressure to work on holidays like Thanksgiving. So would providing workers with adequate protections, benefits and workplace flexibility.

These are steps in the right direction in terms of lessening the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Workers should not have to choose between their families and their jobs – especially on Thanksgiving.

C. Nicole Mason is a visiting professor at Spelman College. She wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues.

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