Horrified Retail Workers Dread the Worst Black Friday Ever
Some retail employees say they feel trapped into working in unsafe conditions with a special breed of pandemically reckless consumers.
Then came the pandemic.
“We don't dare even considering refusing to work on Black Friday,” one worker, who like other retail employees interviewed for this story requested anonymity for fear of professional retaliation, told The Daily Beast of her job at The Children’s Place, a mall-based clothing store in Illinois.
“We've already been informed that if we don't work that day, we are immediately terminated and no amount of contesting it will get our jobs back. We simply can't run the risk of losing our jobs when there are simply no more jobs to be had right now with shut downs and stores closing down due to lack of funds.”
Black Friday, one of the busiest retail days of the year, is a competitive sport among some super-shoppers. In COVID-free years, this crowd might camp outside Best Buy overnight or rush a store as soon as doors open. Retail workers have long shared accounts of aggressive customers haggling with them, even assaulting them when a deal didn’t go their way.
This year, when densely packed indoors spaces are synonymous with COVID-19 risk, some retail employees say they feel trapped into working in unsafe conditions with a special breed of pandemically reckless consumers.
None of the employers named in this story returned requests for comment.
Some stores and states have implemented new policies to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Walmart, where shoppers famously wait in long pre-dawn Black Friday lines, has announced that it will cap store capacity at 20 percent, and keep shoppers in single-file lines while they wait to enter. The superstore also started some of its sales earlier in the month, in an apparent bid to prevent massive crowds the day after Thanksgiving. A few other major retailers followed suit.
But the extended shopping spree can backfire. A worker at at a Macy’s department store in California said her company had rolled out weeks-long Black Friday deals, only to see constant chaos.
“The store traffic has been like Black Friday everyday,” she told The Daily Beast. “Nonstop lines... The other day our store reached capacity, so managers were closing doors, and started to count people. But it shouldn’t get to that point.”
She and some of her colleagues are uncomfortable working Black Friday, she said, but she feels pressed into coming to work for financial reasons: Like millions of Americans in the COVID economy, she experienced unemployment earlier this year.
Holiday shopping can be a headache for grocery workers, too. A dairy stocker in an Iowa supermarket told The Daily Beast that customers often lose their cool around Thanksgiving.
“When it comes to the holidays in general, customers suck. Large crowds of last-minute shoppers, entitled Karens, and nonstop stress,” she said. “I pray to God that this year a majority of customers will use our online shopping service and stay home.”
That worker said she was only working the unenviable Thanksgiving and Black Friday shifts because her store offered a 10 percent bonus for those days. “As a college student I’ll take what I can get,” she told The Daily Beast.
Another mall worker said Black Friday clientele worried him more than normal shoppers.
“My mall seems to be quite busy, so during holiday hours I can only imagine it getting worse,” he told The Daily Beast. “The people who come to shop at the mall worry me the most because: Why do they even need to indulge during a pandemic? Can’t you just find a way to limit your exposure while getting presents in a safe way?”
Despite nearly a year of coronavirus, Americans’ shopping habits are still on the rise. In a Monday announcement, the National Retail Federation said it expected as much as a 5 percent jump in November and December spending, compared to those months in 2019. And not all the cash flow is coming from online sales, which have soared since the virus swept the country; stock prices for mall conglomerates and mall-based retailers like Gap and Macy’s are up, based on predictions that shoppers will flock to IRL stores this holiday season.
Those shopping surges coincide with a terrifying COVID-19 spike. United Food and Commercial Workers, a union that represents grocery and retail workers, announced on Monday that at least 350 of its union members have died of COVID-19 this year. The union is calling for huge increases in protective equipment for workers, as well as hazard pay and paid sick leave.
“Simply put, frontline workers are terrified because their employers and our elected leaders are not doing enough to protect them and stop the spread of this virus,” UFCW president Marc Perrone said in a press call. “As holiday shopping begins this Thanksgiving, we are already seeing a huge surge of customer traffic. Unless we take immediate actions beginning this holiday week, many more essential workers will become sick and more, tragically, will die.”
Instead of successfully rolling out more protections, however, some stores are struggling to enforce their existing anti-COVID policies.
“Iowa is one of the worst states when it comes to COVID. I’ve seen people come into the store in large groups, no masks, and getting too close for comfort,” the grocery store worker said. “A lot of times when the store gets really busy, I’m called to help bag groceries upfront since we’re understaffed.”
“People are not following guidelines,” the Macy’s employee added of mask mandates in her store. “We have a Starbucks in our store, [and] people are walking around drinking and eating with their mask off. If restaurants have to shut down outdoor dining, I don’t understand why we still have our Starbucks open.”
Mask-resistant customers are a constant complaint of retail workers. Employees at Walmart and Target previously told The Daily Beast that their stores were making workers enforce mask rules, placing them into conflict with shoppers who spit and swear at them.
The issue is ongoing, the Children’s Place worker said.
“We have customers that think they're invincible, immune to this very deadly virus, and that gives them the sense that they have entitlement to not wear a mask or practice social distancing,” she said. Even on the best days, customers ignore signs and floor markers that encourage social distancing, the worker noted.
Enforcing such rules is even more challenging at a children’s clothing store, she said, and asking parents to place masks on their children means risking the shopper filing a complaint with the store manager.
Still, on Friday, the store’s sales will be on—and she and her colleagues will be left taming the crowds.
“They have decided that Black Friday will remain on Black Friday, seemingly not caring about the fact that we are experiencing a deadly pandemic,” the Children’s Place worker alleged. “It feels like profits are more important to them then our lives and safety.”