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MN2020 - Tuesday Talk: Frustrated with the Black Friday madness?
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Tuesday Talk: Frustrated with the Black Friday madness?

November 26, 2013 By Joe Sheeran, Communications Director

This week, hundreds of Minnesota retail workers will spend their Thanksgiving on the job, helping their big box bosses pad multimillion dollar bottom lines. These workers are already among Minnesota's lowest paid, taking home well below poverty wages in most cases. Instead of through up their hands, many workers who make the holidays happen are organizing, demanding better wages, working conditions and the right to join a union.

This morning, between 8 and 9:30, we're happy to welcome Cody Oesterreich from CTUL, an organization helping workers employed by cleaning companies that maintain Target stores. Minnesota 2020's Lee Egerstrom will also join the conversation. 

What are your thoughts on the big box stores holiday tactics? 

What wages and benefits do you think retail workers deserve? 

 

Post your comments or questions in the box below, scroll down to see the ongoing conversation, and use "refresh" to see new comments.

Thanks for participating! Commenting on this conversation is now closed.

29 Comments:

  • Roger says:

    November 26, 2013 at 8:48 am

    This summer I was fortunate enough to spend two weeks visiting friends in Austria.  On Sunday’s, every Sunday all year long, the only business that are open are gas stations and restaurants.  Guess what people do in Austria on Sundays?  They rest, relax, and visit family and relatives.  Not just on Holidays, every Sunday - stores are closed.  They seem to value their time spent with family.  We seem to value the almighty dollar.  It is sickening that most people cannot enjoy a holiday with family and friends.  They have to work a low paying job just to scrape out a living.  Just because the stores are open doesn’t mean I have to go to them.

    • Joann says:

      November 26, 2013 at 9:25 am

      Sure wish our nation would follow Austria.  That is awesome and the way it used to be in our great country of USA.
      If we’d all get together and not shop on Holidays or Sundays the public could easily turn this whole issue around and the clerks could get their well deserved day off and attend the church of their choice etc.

    • Grant Tiefenbruck says:

      November 26, 2013 at 9:48 am

      Another consequence of the stores being closed on Sunday is that it helps the small retailer stay in business.  The family store simple cannot be open 12 to 16 hours per day 7 days per week.  I do believe that the times are changing in Europe, too.

      On the other hand, I have benefited from the convenience of buying auto parts and groceries on Sunday.  It doesn’t seem too much to ask for the retail monster to take the day off for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

    • NANCY BALDAUF says:

      November 26, 2013 at 2:35 pm

      OUR PRIORITIES NEED TO CHANGE - EVERYONE DESERVES TO BE WITH FAMILY & FRIENDS - WITH A DAY OFF - ON ALL HOLIDAYS.  FAMILY VALUES ARE CONSTANTLY BEING DISCUSSED BUT NOT SUPPORTED BY ACTIONS.  DOING THE RIGHT THING FOR EMPLOYEES BY PROVIDING A DAY OFF - AND BETTER YET - A PAID DAY OFF - WILL REAP GREATER REWARDS IN LOYALTY AND HARD WORK THAN SHORT-TERM FINANCIAL GAINS BY KEEPING PLACES OF BUSINESS OPEN ON HOLIDAYS.  WE NEED TO MAINTAIN AND HONOR THE VALUES AND TRADITIONS OUR COUNTRY WAS BASED UPON.  I AGREE THAT WE CONSUMERS HAVE THE POWER TO PERSUADE CHANGE BY SIMPLY NOT SHOPPING ON HOLIDAYS.  HOWEVER, WE ALSO NEED THE STRENGTH IN LEADERSHIP FROM ALL EMPLOYERS TO HONOR THEIR EMPLOYEES.  WHEN THAT IS NOT FORTHCOMING, UNION REPRESENTATION IS VERY EFFECTIVE FOR EMPLOYEES.  I SUPPORT WORKERS WHO STAND UP FOR WHAT IS FAIR - TIME OFF FROM WORK ON HOLIDAYS AND A FAIR WAGE.  THE BALANCE OF POWER OBVIOUSLY NEEDS TO BE CHALLENGED.  I APPRECIATE THE ABILITY TO SPEAK OUT AND SHARE DISCUSSION ON AN ISSUE THAT IS DISTURBING TO MANY.

    • David S says:

      November 29, 2013 at 7:58 am

      I’d love to see a return to the model where most stores are closed on Sundays, but I’m afraid the cat’s out of the bag on this one.  However, there should definitely be a select handful of days when most everything is closed to encourage the rare “reset” of our frenetic-paced society.  I seem to recall that years ago people who worked holidays received time-and-a-half compensation.  Of course, that would only happen with solid union representation across the retail sector and we’re a long way from that!  Our best bet is to refrain from shopping on holidays and encourage others to do the same.  Regarding the wage itself, today’s $7.25 minimum is shameful . . . but, a discussion for another day!

  • eldon jones says:

    November 26, 2013 at 9:01 am

    there is no such thing as thanksgiving anymore its money for the wealthy and nothing for the poor.

  • Christina says:

    November 26, 2013 at 9:02 am

    I think unfortunately that it works.  If consumers are upset by it, they need to boycott and not shop these stores, but of course, they do.  It is the responsibility of the consumer in the end.

    • Steve says:

      November 26, 2013 at 9:12 am

      Two things:  First, I think it’s letting businesses off the hook too easily to say it’s “the responsibility of the consumer in the end.”  The human beings who own and operate big box stores are fully capable of making ethical choices about how to operate their business, and should be expected to do so.  Consumers often aren’t given full access to information about their choices so they can’t be blamed entirely. It’s easy to say that consumers are responding to low prices and mega-sales, so consumer demand is creating low wages, but nobody’s advertising the correlation between rock-bottom prices and exploitive wages. 

      That said, consumers do have a lot of power to change our behavior to influence business owners’ behavior.  I know that I won’t be shopping on Black Friday, and I’ll try to do my holiday shopping with local businesses who pay ethical wages.  I"ll also join a picket line on Black Friday to stand with workers.  All of that feels somehow inadequate, though… what other ideas to people have to mobilize our consumer power to confront exploitation in the retail industry?

      • Cody Oesterreich says:

        November 26, 2013 at 9:27 am

        It will be great to have you Steve!
        Confronting exploitation as consumers needs a widespread awareness to have the impact that could change companies I think. These issues would need to be important to the main stream consumer society.

      • NANCY says:

        November 26, 2013 at 2:54 pm

        I AGREE WITH YOU AND APPLAUD YOUR WILLINGNESS TO TAKE ACTION BY JOINING THE PICKET LINE.  I TOO WOULD BE INTERESTED IN OTHER IDEAS TO MOBILIZE CONSUMER POWER.  I HAVE HEARD MANY, MANY PEOPLE VOICING THEIR DISTASTE FOR THIS UNFORTUNATE NEW TREND.  THEREFORE - NOT SHOPPING ON THURSDAY OR FRIDAY WOULD SEND AN IMPORTANT AND POWERFUL MESSAGE.

  • Lee Egerstrom says:

    November 26, 2013 at 9:04 am

    More than most years, a lot of public attention has focused on how many big box stores are planning to be open for business on Thanksgiving this year and not waiting for big promotions to kick in on Black Friday. This drives home a point made in our Made in Minnesota 2013 report, Fair Retail Wages Strengthen Local Economies. Merchants do respond to consumer wishes. Make no mistake, shoppers will flock to stores on Thanksgiving. This is all the more reason why consumers should ask store managers how they are treating their employees. Are they paying a minimum wage of $9.50 an hour? Do they offer sick days and paid vacations? Do they provide insurance benefits? Are a majority of employees given full-time work opportunities?  More than ever, we need retailers to see and hear wishes from the consuming public.

    • Cody Oesterreich says:

      November 26, 2013 at 9:14 am

      The retail store image is powerful, particularly for stores like Target who have created an image for themselves as a contributor to the community. Its interesting how the public image of Target has, until recently been able to avoid any examination of how their own workers are treated.

      • Steve says:

        November 26, 2013 at 9:26 am

        Target has at least partially benefited from Walmart’s well-earned awful reputation as an employer.  They’ve been able to deflect criticism to their competitor and maintain a cleaner image.  Interestingly, last week’s report from Minnesotans for a Fair Economy (http://www.scribd.com/doc/183603900/AT-WHAT-COST) showed that average wages were actually a little lower at Target than at Walmart, and that doesn’t even include the bad treatment of contract cleaning workers that CTUL has done so much good work to highlight.  It’s a good opportunity to reflect on the power of brand perception vs. reality, and rethink our sense of what we’re doing with our purchasing power.

  • Rachel says:

    November 26, 2013 at 9:09 am

    Lee, If I’m a regular customer at my local grocery store & want them to know that I care about fair wages and conditions for the employees of that store, where do I start? Who do I contact?

    • Lee Egerstrom says:

      November 26, 2013 at 9:14 am

      If you are a regular customer, you may recognize familiar faces among the workers. A greeting and casual conversation might bring you information about working conditions in the store. And if that doesn’t work, a direct question to the store manager on duty might bring some information. At the least, it will make your desire to shop at fair wage stores know. There is a big educational task ahead of all of us if we want a more equitable society for retail workers.

      • Cody Oesterreich says:

        November 26, 2013 at 9:20 am

        For those of us who are interested in changing oppressive practices in workforces right here in our communities, we would love it if you would join us for the March to End Poverty Wages and Retail Janitors Strike on Black Friday this year.
        The March is at 11am at the intersection of University and Griggs in the midway area of St Paul and stiking workers will need your support in a picket in front of the downtown Minneapolis Target from 5:30-10:30am. We will have busses taking us from the picket to the march.
        For more info visit ctul.net

      • Lee Egerstrom says:

        November 26, 2013 at 9:23 am

        Another thought, and it builds on comments from Cody and Steve: Yes, big box store operators bring enormous power to the workplace and markets. But the greatest sleeping giant this time of year is the market power that resides in the hands of consumers. Remember, 70 percent of U.S. GDP - a clear measure of the economy - is driven by individual and household consumption. There can’t be greater market power than that! But this market power isn’t being used in a constructive way to combat poverty and raise wages and compensation packages for our workers.

  • Cody Oesterreich says:

    November 26, 2013 at 9:36 am

    It seems that the power in the consumer voice needs first to be aware and affected by the realities created by corporations. Awareness of what its like for a single mom that cleans the Target store in Shakopee and earns $8.50/hour to not be able to get enough food for her 4 kids from the food shelf. And get a letter that she will be evicted from her home because she isn’t able to keep up with rent.

    Is there a way to turn that reality into the popular culture buzz?

    • Lee Egerstrom says:

      November 26, 2013 at 9:48 am

      There has to be, Cody. Gathering forces and voices to encourage the Minnesota Legislature to raise the minimum wage to at least $9.50 an hour this coming year will raise awareness among the public and within business and industry. The flip side is that this public discussion will drive home awareness that working conditions - wages - either continue and perpetuate poverty or start lifting people up out of poverty. This is the popular culture buzz needed so the public at large recognizes the full extent of what’s at stake for workers and their families.

    • Steve says:

      November 26, 2013 at 9:53 am

      Luckily, most Minnesotans look to Minnesota 2020 for popular culture buzz, so getting on here takes care of that! wink

      Seriously, though, the workers with CTUL and OurWalmart who have been sharing their stories publicly have done a lot to raise awareness and get this conversation out of the break rooms and into consumers’ lives.  Their courage is pretty inspiring! 

      Those of us who aren’t struggling to put food on the table this year owe it to these workers to listen to the stories they’re telling, to share those stories, and to act on our best empathetic and loving impulses in response to these stories.  The race to the bottom is not inevitable, but canceling it does require us all to act.

  • Lee Egerstrom says:

    November 26, 2013 at 9:39 am

    There is another point that I wish to stress because it often gets overlooked this time of year. We aren’t engaged in an “us” vs “them,” divisive struggle between shoppers and retail workers or cleaning crews. What gets lost is that all are fellow members of the stakeholders who have so much riding on the holiday shopping season. Keep in mind the stakeholders include employees, customers, suppliers, creditors, the communities themselves, the general pubic, managers and stockholders. Locking in, or perpetuating poverty, serves none of the stakeholders long-term interests.

  • Cody Oesterreich says:

    November 26, 2013 at 9:45 am

    Retail janitors that clean big box retail stores are contracted out by cleaning companies that are notorious for not paying overtime wages, treating workers disrespectfully, not offering benefits, and paying poverty wages that are impossible to live on.

    That is why 50 retail janitors throughout the Twin Cities are going on strike on Black Friday. We hope that this action will bring more public attention to the inhumane policies of businesses and bring a human face to the people who are cleaning the stores that we all shop at, making their struggles our struggles.

    Support workers, join them on Friday: http://ctul.net/

  • Lee Egerstrom says:

    November 26, 2013 at 10:10 am

    Reaching out to our shopper friends from the broader community, I would like to remind everyone that keeping poverty built into wages for large potions of our economy is self-defeating, and not sustainable. Economic studies show that raising the state minimum wage to $9.50 an hour would add $470 million in annual purchasing power for Minnesota’s working poor. That money would be turned around and run through Minnesota cash registers, not parked offshore in Cayman Island bank accounts! This would stimulate the Minnesota economy.

  • Harold W. Onstad says:

    November 26, 2013 at 10:26 am

    Two comments.
    First, does anyone else find it a strange combination of sad and humorous that what used to be a retailers’ insider code for the day they had to rake in the cash to have hopes of an in the black year, “Black Friday”, has been transformed into virtually a holiday in its own right? We’ve all been convinced that there is no more joyous way to spend our time than standing in lines well before dawn to be the first to try and assure the stores a profit.
    Second, the blame for all this shopping madness, Friday creeping into Thursday afternoon and the plight of the retail worker should not be placed on the big-box retailer alone. The success virtually all other businesses have had at keeping wages where they were decades ago, or lower in real dollars, has left all of us looking for some way to stretch a buck.
    It’s expecting quite a bit of the average consumer to not take part in the search for the bottom.

  • Frank H. says:

    November 26, 2013 at 10:52 am

    I grew-up in a small town, and am old enough to recall the days when (outside of a gas station or two) everything was Closed on holidays, save for our family-filled homes and hearts.  Sure it’s convenient to have random stores—esp. food stores—open; but do we really “need” that convenience at the expense of those under-compensated others who must sacrifice their holidays for same.  In the “old days” of the 50’s & 60’s, if we had forgotten to buy that can of milk for the pie, we did w/o or went to the neighbors to borrow one.  As for shopping on the day of a major holiday, it give me indigestion just contemplating it.

  • TONY says:

    November 26, 2013 at 11:26 am

    change it to black Monday. The Monday before Thanksgiving. That takes the pressure off being open on Thanksgiving…

  • Joan says:

    November 26, 2013 at 11:59 am

    Praises go out to Menards, Costco and other retailers that are not opening on Thanksgiving day or even at midnight.  They are waiting until Friday am to open.  I will visit their stores and compliment them on their decision to put people and families first.

  • Trisha Harms says:

    November 26, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    Hey Folks, my readers are asking for a “Do-Shop” list for the holidays. Any advice?

  • Lil Ortendahl says:

    November 26, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    Frankly the big box stores and others do not need to be open on Thanksgiving at all to make the profits that they do, Let us have one day a year for family since they all say they care so much for their employees. No they care about the almighty dollars. Overall it would probably reduce the cost of illness care if workers got a full day of rest, relaxation and family gathering.  To get the consumer crowds shopping Thanksgiving and Black Friday they have to lower their prices to ridiculous numbers and thus entice the consumer to buy on those days. It aces out the little Ma & Pa stores as we called them. Those were open 7 days a week for limited hours for the emergency purchases. Let them survive.