Justin Mills, a four-year Target employee, is one of the lucky ones. While he was originally scheduled for a split shift on Thanksgiving Day this year, requiring him to work one shift in the morning and come back for another in the evening, he was able to get the day off after talking to his manager.
Given that the store will open at 6 p.m., meaning many employees will have to come in at 3 or earlier to set up the store, not everyone can expect the same treatment. “My management team did work hard to meet people’s preferences, but not everyone will get what they requested since the store is opening early and for a long period of time,” he told ThinkProgress.
That treatment is why he started a petition on Change.org. “I decided to make the petition when I found out that other companies were opening at 6:00 pm on Thanksgiving,” he said. So far 12 national chains, including Target, say they will open on the holiday with some stores even opening for the entire day. “I feared that Target would follow so I decided to make the petition that urged them to stay closed,” Mills said.
His fears played out, and while he will be able to spend the day at home with family and friends, many of his coworkers can’t. He was originally hired four years ago as a seasonal employee. “When I first started, Black Friday started around 3:00am on Friday. Every year, the store opened earlier and earlier,” he said. This year, he said, “There are many employees that are having to work on Thanksgiving.” In his petition, he writes, “As a Target employee for 4 years, I haven’t been able to fully enjoy the holiday season with my family. I usually had to leave in the middle of my Thanksgiving dinner.”
As with Kmart employees, who say they are banned from asking for days off around the holidays, Mills said that no one at Target is allowed to request to have Thanksgiving off. “Management does take people’s preferences for working that day, but nothing is set in stone,” he said. “If management feels like they need you at a certain time, you will most likely be scheduled then.”
Those who get scheduled but want to stay home to celebrate are also out of luck. “On Thanksgiving and Black Friday, no one is allowed to miss work,” he said. “We are told that it could lead to termination.” He was on the schedule for Black Friday last year, and even though he was very sick, he worked his 10-hour shift “due to my fear of being fired.” Kmart employees also say they have been told they’ll be fired if they don’t show up and have shared photos of signs posted around the store telling them they can’t request holidays off.
A Target spokeswoman responded to Mills’s allegations that workers risk being fired if they don’t show up and that no one is allowed to take days off during the holiday season by saying, “There is no blackout. Obviously the holiday season is a peak season, so we staff up substantially and hire a lot of temporary members as well.” She added, “We absolutely reach out to every team member to understand their preferences and build a schedule around the needs of the business as well as the needs of the team.” She said that the “vast majority” volunteer to work on the holidays, saying they “enjoy it… A lot of people really seek to do that.”
Mills’s petition clearly has struck a nerve. As of Thursday morning, it had more than 92,000 signatures. That success has taken him by surprise. “To be honest, I didn’t think my petition would go anywhere,” he said. “For almost a week, it only sat at 3 signatures. Then in one day, it had increased to 500 signatures. I thought that was amazing. When I woke up the next morning, I was speechless; it increased to over 18,000. That was when I realized that my actions can make an impact.”
It’s also impressed his fellow employees. “Many of my coworkers are very supportive and appreciate that I am standing up for them,” he said. “Many of them don’t like the idea of working on Thanksgiving, so they are supportive and think what I am doing is awesome.”
He doesn’t know if the petition will elicit a response from his employer. The Target spokeswoman responded by saying, “We as a business really take into consideration what we’re hearing form our guests in terms of when they want to shop. We’ve seen over the past several years a strong response to being open on Thursday. We respect his opinion and right to express it but we will be open on Thanksgiving starting at 6:00.”
But he’s hoping it can influence those shoppers. On the petition, he writes, “Signing it alone is not enough; please do not succumb to the ‘deals’. By adding fuel to the fire, the meaning of Thanksgiving will burn away and it will only be known as a shopping spree day.” Shoppers can instead frequent the 17 brands that have decided to stay closed on Thanksgiving Day.