Millions of Americans will flood stores around the country on the most holy day of the year for retailers. Black Friday, now an event that begins Thanksgiving Day for many businesses, has grown into such a frenzied ritual that the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration advises stores to staff their entrances with guards and monitor objects that could be used as projectiles.
While people elbow their way through crowds to get discounts on big-screen televisions, they should be mindful that many of the employees have little or no choice but to be working instead of spending time with loved ones.
Here are six things you should know about Black Friday workers:
The average retail sales worker makes less than $22,000 per year.
MIT's research on the minimum pay needed to meet the cost of living in a location suggests that retail sales workers' pay generally hovers right around the living wage threshold for a single adult without children — far from sufficient for a single parent. Keep in mind this is an estimate of what's needed to meet basic costs and doesn't account for substantial emergency funds, savings, investments or leisure.
45% of service sector workers don't get paid holidays.
The U.S. stands alone among affluent capitalist nations in its refusal to legally mandate that companies offer their employees paid vacation and holidays. Of service sector workers, which includes retail workers, 45% do not get paid holidays.
Over a quarter of low-wage retail workers live in poverty.
Twenty-six percent of low-wage retail workers live in total or near-poverty. A study by nonpartisan public policy center Demos found that a new wage floor of $25,000 a year would pull millions of Americans away from the most dire economic hardship and give them purchasing power to boost the economy.
Retail workers have extremely unpredictable schedules.
A survey from Retail Action Project found that nearly 40% of retail workers don't receive a set minimum of hours, and 25% receive on-call shifts hours before they're needed in the workplace. ThinkProgress reported research showing close to 50% of part-time workers and close to 40% of full-time workers are given seven days' notice or less for their schedules.
Erratic schedules make other life commitments such as child-rearing or pursuing other educational or employment opportunities extremely difficult. It's also a documented source of wage theft, as workers work with such irregularity they lose track of their compensation.
Sales is one of the least unionized industries in the country.
Part of the explanation why retail workers face the work conditions they do is because they lack organization and collective leverage. Among occupational groups in the U.S.,, the retail industry has one of the lowest unionization rates. Efforts by retail workers to organize have generally been squashed by aggressive anti-union campaigns.
Black Friday is becoming an occasion for fighting for workers' rights.
This is the third and potentially biggest year of coordinated strikes and protests by Walmart employees across the country. Actions are planned at over 2,000 stores, united by a call for access to full-time hours and a $15 wage. That number isn't just picked out of thin air: In 2014, $15 per hour has become a rallying cry, the target wage for low-wage workers across the country. It's also not a purely fantastical notion. Seattle and San Francisco have already passed measures to roll out a $15 minimum wage in the coming years.
This Thanksgiving, let's remember that many are excluded from the holiday and live lives that could be made much easier if their workers were reasonably compensated, given better schedules and were able to organize so they could negotiate for a fairer workplace. Or if you're still awake after your fill of turkey, get involved.