Black Friday This Year Will Be Interesting

Wal-Mart, the 8-million pound gorilla of retailing, is feeling the heat and responding forcefully. OUR Walmart, a coalition of disgruntled WalMart employees that is affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, is staging a series of walkouts and protests by Wal-Mart employees at locations throughout the country, to culminate in protests at more than 1,000 U.S. stores this Black Friday. The organization says the workers will be protesting against what they say are unfair labor practices by the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer. Wal-Mart has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board seeking an injunction against the protests on the grounds that the planned protests violate a section of the National Labor Relations Act that limits picketing by a union seeking recognition to no more than 30 days. The NLRB has promised a ruling within a few days–an extraordinarily fast turnaround time, by the agency’s standards.

In its complaint, Wal-Mart maintains that the protests represent an ongoing attempt by the UFCW to unionize its workers and that the protests have exceeded 30 days. OUR Walmart has denied that its protests are about seeking union recogniation — instead, it says, they are designed to call attention to what it says are unfair wages and working conditions at Wal-Mart and retaliation taken by the company against employees who’ve spoken out. Wal-Mart has denied the allegations and says it’s confident the protests won’t dent its bottom line: “We don’t think what the unions are planning will have any impact on our business at all,” it told the Financial Times.

Meanwhile, Casey St. Clair, a 24-year old employee at a Target store in Norco, Calif., started a petition on Change.org calling for the retailer to grant its employees Thanksgiving Day off after she learned she was scheduled to work on Thanksgiving night. Target joins WalMart,  ToysRus and other large retailers that have begun opening their stores as early as 8pm on Thanksgiving night to accommodate the hordes of Black Friday shoppers who aren’t content to wait until the early morning next day to get their holiday shopping started. St. Clair’s petition has already garnered 365,000 signatures as of today. According to USA Today, Change.org had 91 petitions against Thanksgiving Day sales as of last Friday — the final tally of such petitions this Thanksgiving is expected to exceed last year’s total of 150, said Change.org spokeswoman Charlotte Hill.

As someone who isn’t crazy about shopping to begin with, I just don’t get the need to line up at a store at 8pm on Thanksgiving Day — unless, that is, you really despise sitting around with family. I expect to spend that time lounging away the effects of turkey-generated tryptophan, and I sympathize with the desire of my fellow Americans to be accorded that same right. That said, I question Ms. St. Clair’s decision to close her petition letter with “The world won’t end if people have wait 7 more hours to buy useless junk that will be outdated in a year anyway.” Kind of counterproductive to insult not only your employer but the customers who support it.

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