Well-rested and full of turkey, millions of Americans are expected Friday morning to storm retail stores all across the nation to make the most of Black Friday deals. But not everyone is happy — many retail workers can't spend time with their family over the holiday because the demand for labor is so great. They find themselves working long hours in a stressful environment, only to see their weekly work hours — and salaries — drop once the holiday season is over.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016, there were almost five million retail jobs in America, with about 1 in 3 of those jobs being part-time. In the Philadelphia metro area, the number of people who worked in sales and related occupations, such as cashiers and supervisors, in 2017 was 72,490 — about 8 percent of all workers. While these jobs are not at risk of disappearing, the growth of retail jobs is dramatically lower than other occupations due, in part, to the rise in online shopping.
While many large retailers have raised hourly pay beyond the minimum wage, workers in large retail stores often struggle to rack up the hours needed for a livable salary throughout the year. After months of begging for more hours, November comes, and employees find themselves working more than a full-time job — and on Thanksgiving, whether they like it or not. A CareerBuilder survey from 2015 found that in Philadelphia, 18 percent of workers spent their holiday with their coworkers.
This grievance sparked a movement asking people to boycott Thanksgiving shopping. But the good intentions and care for workers behind the call is not necessarily for the benefit of workers. Some bank on the holiday season for extra cash, especially when overtime pays time-and-a-half.
The real question is, then, how do we ensure that retail workers have both wage stability throughout the year and the ability to choose whether they work on holidays or not — just like consumers choose whether, and where, they want to go shop?
A first step is to ensure that workers have stable schedules. Even if workers finds themselves working extra in the holiday season, being able to plan around that in advance — and to plan on the money coming in — makes a big difference. Councilwoman Helen Gym's fair workweek bill provides hourly workers with that stability. Expected to be voted on Dec. 6, the bill also provides them with wage insurance in case their shifts are canceled.
Another less-discussed element of the bill is the good-faith estimate of work scheduled. Upon employment, the employee and employer will discuss what they can expect a workweek to look like. That is another step toward ensuring that retail workers have a stable and livable salary throughout the year and not only during November and December.
For this year, before any change can take place, shoppers themselves can make a difference — by being patient and kind to the workers they encounter, who might have just spent yet another holiday working in the store.