Time to Boycott Black Friday -- and Turkey Day "Sales"

Last Updated Nov 26, 2010 12:25 PM EST

Walmart has been trumpeting that its stores will be open on Thanksgiving Day. Agenda for Black Friday from Rob Beschizza
To quote Dana Carvey's Church Lady, "Well, isn't that special."

Seriously, folks, don't Walmart's employees have it tough enough without being required to show up for work on a national holiday, especially one that emphasizes getting together with family? The company's national average wage of $11.75 an hour, some 2.5 percent below the average wage for retail salespeople, amounts to an annual income of $20,774 -- 6 percent below the federal poverty level of $22,050 for a family of four. And health insurance? Only 54 percent of its workers are enrolled, and it's easy to understand why. Even though they pay only $702 a year for the plan, the deductible is $4,400, about a fifth of that below-poverty-level income.

Walmart isn't the only store to open on Thanksgiving. Sears, Toys R Us and other big-box retailers will also be pushing their merchandise on Thursday. And I doubt that their employees are much better compensated than those at Walmart.

And then there's so-called Black Friday. Merchants now demand that staff open stores at 6 a.m. or earlier. Staid old, smaller-box Macy's will be ushering in the crowds at 4 a.m.

Even without working Thanksgiving or having to show up for work at dawn, most big-box workers already live with hours that are completely inhumane. Home Depot, for example, gives retail associates their schedules once every two weeks. Nobody can plan a family outing, a party, attendance at a PTA meeting or even a medical procedure more than two weeks out. Worse, no one day is like any other. On Monday, a worker has a shift that runs from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. (the company doesn't pay for a lunch hour); the next day, his hours may be 12 p.m. to 9 p.m.; on Wednesday, from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. and so on. And, of course, most people have to work Saturdays and Sundays, the stores' busiest days. Such irregular schedules put paid to family life and any natural biological rhythm.

At Walmart, where software times employee shifts to coincide with increases in the number of customers, things are worse. According to the Wall Street Journal, "experts say [the program] can saddle workers with unpredictable schedules. In some cases, they may be asked to be 'on call' to meet customer surges, or sent home because of a lull, resulting in less pay. The new systems also alert managers when a worker is approaching full-time status or overtime, which would require higher wages and benefits, so they can scale back that person's schedule." As a result, a worker may not know when or whether to hire a babysitter or if he'll have enough money to make the rent that month.

I know that there are people out there saying, "Hey, they're lucky to have a job." And maybe they are in this crazy economy. But that's still no reason why workers should be mercilessly required to give up what is a national holiday or arrive at work at ungodly hours to face crowds whipped into a frenzy for what my Moneywatch colleague Carla Fried describes as a bunch of phony bargains.

So when Black Friday comes, do yourself -- and workers at big-box stores -- a favor. Stay at home. You'll save some money and gas and maybe start to discourage merchants from pushing their workers beyond the edge.