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By Elizabeth Johnston and Liz Watson, National Women's Law Center
Cross-posted from NWLC's blog

For Walmart workers, this year Black Friday starts on Black Thursday, the day also known as Thanksgiving. Being open on Thanksgiving is actually nothing new for Walmart. What is new is that Black Friday sales will start at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving this year, meaning many more workers must work through the holiday.

In total, more than 1 million Walmart workers will be missing out on time with their families this Thanksgiving. Although Walmart’s CEO says workers are “excited” to do it because it is a “high energy day”, it’s hard to see how they have any choice in the matter.

While Walmart hopes to cash in this Black Friday (and Thursday), its workers simply hope to make enough cash to put food on the Thanksgiving table. OUR Walmart has planned 1500 Black Friday protests at Walmart stores across the country to call attention to this irony, and the very difficult working conditions the group says dog Walmart workers.

Walmart is the largest employer of low-wage workers, with two-thirds of its employees earning less than $25,000 a year. At Walmart, hours are the new bonus. Over the past few years Walmart has transitioned many of its employees from full-time to part-time: today it employs a large staff of mostly part-time workers, who compete for hours as managers try to minimize labor costs and maximize profit. Walmart’s work schedules are unpredictable and unstable, and workers have very few opportunities for meaningful input into when they are scheduled to work. As a result, workers struggle to schedule child care and meet family obligations and cannot rely on a steady paycheck.

Part-time status means that many are ineligible for benefits, such as health insurance, and that workers often are not covered by the Family Medical Leave Act.

Some Walmart workers report having been forced off the job while pregnant, simply because they requested minor job modifications like honoring a doctor’s letter with a lifting restriction.

When Walmart workers went on strike to protest these conditions, OUR WALMART says more than 80 workers were disciplined or fired.

Through the Black Friday protests and its ongoing campaign, OUR Walmart is highlighting the need for:

  • Decent pay
  • Predictable schedules over which workers have some control and more full-time work
  • A voice in the company and an end to retaliation for speaking up
  • Training for managers in applying workplace policies evenly and fairly
  • A workplace free from discrimination

OUR WALMART sums it up this way:

“We envision a future in which our company treats us, the Associates of Walmart, with respect.”

And isn’t a little respect what we all need – even more than we need a holiday bargain?

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