Don’t push Black Friday into Thanksgiving

Peter Foley BLOOMBERG Customers shop at a Toy “R” Us Inc. store in New York, U.S., on Monday, Nov. 14, … Continued

Peter Foley


Customers shop at a Toy “R” Us Inc. store in New York, U.S., on Monday, Nov. 14, 2011. Toys “R” Us Inc. announced that its stores nationwide will open their doors at 9pm on Thanksgiving night to welcome Black Friday shoppers as they kick off the holiday shopping season.

How much is the American worker supposed to put up with? Ordinary Americans are already overworked and underpaid, but major retailers like Wal-Mart are pushing their “Black Friday” sales into Thanksgiving day, some starting at 10 p.m. on the holiday. These stores are invading one of the few holidays many workers get anymore.

No thanks.

Thanksgiving is about family and friends rejoicing together, relaxing after all the hard work of the year. But now workers in these stores are even losing that option; if stores continue the drive to start “black Friday” on Thursday, some employees will have to literally get up from the Thanksgiving table and head in to work.

Our economy has become a treadmill for both workers and consumers alike, locked in an awful race of overwork and consumption. If the retailers don’t get into the “black,” that is, turn huge profits during the pre-Christmas sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving, then there is the threat that more workers will lose their jobs. Consumers, with their salaries flat or even cut in recent years, think they need the sales in order to afford gifts for the holidays. Workers are locked on to this same treadmill, having to service the consumption in order for the machinery of the economy to “improve.”


This system is profoundly immoral. First, the basic premise is false. These retailers don’t need to encroach on Thanksgiving in order to survive. Corporations are making huge profits, and they are increasingly doing so on the backs of American workers. “In the past 20 years, the US economy has grown nearly 60 percent,” according to Dan Gilson of Mother Jones. This is not only due to the Internet and automation, but also as a “result of Americans working harder—often without a big boost to their bottom lines. Oh, and meanwhile, corporate profits are up 20 percent.”

Second, the human toll of this increased “productivity” is “heartbreaking and harrowing,”as shown by personal stories of overworked Americans. The stories are crucial to understanding the human cost of our skewed economic values. From warehouse workers to surgeons, from teachers to mental health technicians, the stories in this article show how few escape the productivity treadmill powered by human overwork.

Let us be clear. Squeezing profits out of the American worker in this way not only violates standards of basic human dignity, from a faith perspective it also is an affront to the God who created people in God’s image. This is why I appreciate so much the work of John Paul II in laying out a theology of work. In his famous encyclical “On Human Work,” the Pope John Paul II wrote that work is fundamental to the truth of the human condition. Through work, people become who they are intended to be. Through work, human beings share “In the activity of the Creator “(Laborem Exercens, V.25).

When, however, work becomes grinding toil for flat or reduced wages and workers are afforded little rest, it violates human dignity; this has serious consequences for people’s sense of self-worth. It can contribute to a sense of helplessness and despair, and can spill over into family and society as people are more and more tired and stressed. Work today is becoming an attack on the fundamental dignity and worth of human beings as expressed through their work.

These retailers need to re-think not only their proposed intrusion into their workers’ Thanksgiving holiday, they also need to be pushed to find a decent balance among work hours, compensation and profits for the whole year. Just a decent balance, is that too much to ask?

“People before profits” say the signs at #OWS. They’re right.


Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
  • jfv123

    I won’t be shopping.
    I won’t be working this year, but I have worked on Thanksgiving day.
    Many workers will welcome the exra money from extra hours.
    Many people are ambivalent about Tnanksgiving.
    My wife loves Thanksgiving.
    I don’t see the point of all the work cooking more stuff than anyone wants or needs.
    Seems like going to work is often less work than the cooking.

  • mil1

    I have worked many Thanksgivings and Christmases etc….and you, citizens of the US, have wanted me to be at work….I am your police, fire, and emergency responders, I am also your military and your hospital worker…

    Working on Thanksgiving or any other holiday for that matter is not an issue; it is not against anyone’s religion or patriotic feelings. If you don’t like the fact that you are asked to work holidays then you can think about whether you need the job that employees you.

    Most people now a days think it’s better to keep their job then to tell their employer they need to leave because philosophically they don’t like working holidays. But hey go ahead….I believe there are people lined up to take your job if you don’t want it……

  • chaos1551

    You prove the point of the article, jfv123.

    Why will workers welcome extra money? Because they need it, not want it. We’re talking about retail clerks here.

    When many only see their family on holidays and work takes precedence, the importance of family is reduced.

    Personally, I’d rather take an occasional holiday and work my butt off with my family than spend another day at work–unless I can’t afford to not work on said holiday.

    The point is family. Do you see it now?

    Thistlethwaite makes a good point.

  • John991

    I always assumed that most people working on holidays did so voluntarily, to make the holiday pay rate.

  • Sutter

    I’m with you in general, but for many people Thanksgiving is as much about football as it is about family gatherings. Workers in restaurants, movie theatres, and some other retail establishments have worked on Thanksgiving for years. People will still shopat Wal-Mart, etc. if the prices are right, regardless of people having to work starting late that night (and few will shop at 2 a.m., so it’s mainly a publicity gimmick, which the media will eat up). Just as they buy Chinese-made products if the price is lower than American-made products (and then go home and complain we’re exporting jobs).

  • Sutter

    It doesn’t have to be voluntary. I’ve had jobs where I’ve had to work on holidays. Many employers may try to first use volunteers, but if they are gong to stay open they can require people to work. Extra pay rate depends on the employer and any agreement with the workers, unions, etc. I’m not aware of laws requiring more pay for working on a holiday.

  • Sutter

    You make good points. But there are also many others, such as those working for airlines, at gas stations, at restaurants, toll plazas, etc., etc. In the old days, employers could tell a worker to do pretty much anything. Maybe we’ll go back to that.

  • mil1

    Good point Sutter. I do remember a time when many places were not open–Restaurants, shops, dept stores etc and many gas stations (you had to carefully plan that trip to grandma’s). But rationalhuman is right, employers, at time of employment, tell you what days you get off. The only sympathy I have for the Target folks is that management waited to tell them they would be open on Thanksgiving late (Target is actually normally open Thanksgiving, just not late).

  • brewstercounty

    My cousin is a state trooper and I believe they work just about every single holiday.

    i believe they work just about every single holiday.

  • Skowronek

    Go Russian Orthodox. Christmas is the 7th of January. The best shopping days are the 26th of December through the 6th of January!

    Or do what I did and buy things on sale here and there throughout the year that don’t perish (books, clothes, etc.) and be 95% finished in October. I’m not torturing anybody, least of all myself, on Thanksgiving or the day after Thanksgiving.

  • dan1138

    What sanctimonious garbage ! Working on a holiday is immoral ? Tell that to all of the doctors/nurses/police who will be working a full shift that day. “Personal stories of overworked Americans” ? Tell that to a farmer in China or a shop owner in Turkey who work every day.

    What arrogant twaddle !

  • thebump

    Let us pray that the authoress actually reads Blessed Pope John Paul II on the subject of human dignity, and repents of her complicity in the abortion industry’s savagery. No cherry-picking, sistah.

    She’d benefit as well from some basic economics. An increase in productivity does not mean that people work harder — indeed it means the opposite.

    The authoress’s twisted ideology — shopping is “profoundly immoral” but slaughtering the unborn is okay — would be funny if not so tragic.

  • Ombudsman1

    His dignity has been violated.

  • Ombudsman1

    In a paper full of dumb editorials, this one is the blue-ribbon winner.


  • clintonguy

    Well said. I agree. These corporations are needlessly making people work on these holidays to increase THEIR bottom line. I think workers should be given the option to work during these holidays with no consequences if they chose not too. Those that do can get extra pay while the others get their regular salary. There is something..sad about stores putting up Xmas decorations during Halloween. I just don’t care for it.

  • Carstonio

    Below, BrewsterCounty mentions a cousin who works numerous holidays as a state trooper. I don’t think anyone here is comparing that sacrifice they make to the one made by people in retail, or suggesting that their jobs are equivalent. The issue here is that police officers and other emergency personnel are doing a necessary job that benefits everyone. What the stores are doing is artificially inflating the shopping season and encouraging a madhouse version of consumption, and most of the benefit goes to a few very wealthy stockholders. Obviously giving up holiday time to ring up purchases or stock shelves isn’t the same as giving up that time to save lives or catch criminals. The issue here is the priorities of the people who are giving the orders.

  • oo7

    “Working on Thanksgiving violates human dignity”

    Thanksgiving, the day we remember our unique relationship with Native American’s, who aided our first settlers, and whom we then slaughtered, abused, and beat violently into submission, reducing their presence until they all but disappeared, and until we needed names for sports teams.

    But the violation on human dignity is not in refusing to confront this history on Thanksgiving. It’s WORKING on Thanksgiving.

    Welcome to a simulation of our bankrupt society.

  • Carstonio

    In Thanksgiving terms, restaurant workers and movie theater employees are in a different category than retail workers. The former two are about entertainment and socializing with family and friends, and that fits the spirit of the holiday.

  • Kingofkings1


  • hearthasreasons

    I’m a little taken aback that we as a society don’t seem to see the incongruity between the act of thanksgiving (and the holiday that goes with it) on one hand, and the greed and consumption that go with “Black Friday” shopping binges. We should at least change the name and call it what it is: Consumption Day.

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