The Black Thursday Backlash

Retailers' plans to open Thanksgiving Day inspires a backlash.

It’s hard to keep the days straight in the Christmas shopping season. First there was Black Friday. Big stores would open early the day after Thanksgiving to kick off the holiday shopping binge—and get their books out of the red and into the black. Then the e-commerce industry brought us Cyber Monday, which required no camping out and inspired little trampling. There’s also Small-Business Saturday, a designated day to patronize Main Street retailers. According to the National Retail Federation, 147 million Americans are planning to shop Thanksgiving weekend, which “traditionally” starts at the stroke after midnight on Friday morning. The NRF projects sales will rise 4.1 percent this year.

And now … Gray Thursday?

Target is planning to open its stores at 9 p.m. on Thursday, with Walmart, Sears, and Toys ’R Us opting for 8 p.m. This year Sears will offer 26 straight hours of shopping, from 8 p.m. Thursday until 10 p.m. Friday. Walmart and Toys ’R Us both broke the Thursday barrier last year, opening at 9 and 10 p.m. respectively. For their part, Macy’s and Best Buy are staying traditional: both retailers plan on opening at midnight Friday morning. 

The further encroachment of the holiday shopping season into Thursday, a national day of rest, is inspiring angst, and labor unrest. Walmart workers at 1,000 stores have announced plans for protests on Friday. The planned actions are part of a campaign among labor organizers and Walmart workers to put pressure on the company for better wages and benefits. Last week, workers at a warehouse contracted by Walmart walked out, demanding better working conditions.

The retail behemoth has more than 4,500 locations and 1.4 million employees, and will have one million working for the weekend. In September, the company announced that it would hire over 50,000 seasonal workers for the holiday-shopping crunch along with extending hours for its current workforce.

The company filed a complaint last Thursday with the National Labor Relations Board trying to prevent OUR Walmart from carrying out its planned Black Friday protests. Walmart alleges that the group is union-sponsored and is violating union-organizing rules. And some Target employees aren’t happy either. One Target employee in California, who has worked there for six years, started a petition on Change.org, asking Target’s CEO, Gregg W. Steinhafel, to “take the high road and save Thanksgiving” and reject “Thanksgiving creep.” Casey St. Clair wrote in the petition that she “thought it was interesting the first year I worked the 4 a.m. opening” but that even “opening at midnight was pushing it.” The planned 9 p.m. opening, however, was just too much to ask of the company’s retail workforce, she argued, writing that it should be one of the few days they are able to spend entirely with their families.

St. Clair hand-delivered the petition signatures to Target’s headquarters in Minneapolis and told local TV reporters that “she always felt it was a respectful company” and that “she was disappointed in their decision to follow their competitors.” St. Clair’s petition is one of the dozens hosted on Change.org, but it is the one that has garnered the most attention by far.

The Minnesota retail giant, however, has not changed its plans and said in a statement: “We appreciate the enthusiasm and understanding our team members have shown as they help Target deliver an outstanding shopping experience to our guests on one of the busiest holiday weekends of the year.”