Economy

Exclusive: Kmart Workers Say They Risk Being Fired If They Don’t Come In On Thanksgiving

CREDIT: John Konstantaras/AP

While Kmart has claimed that stores try to staff shifts on Thanksgiving Day, which will begin before 6 a.m., with volunteers and seasonal employees, workers are reporting that they have little control over whether they’ll have to skip out on time with family and friends.

In a survey of 66 self-identified Kmart employees shared exclusively with ThinkProgress, two-thirds said there would be repercussions if they refused to work on Thanksgiving Day, including half who said they could be fired and others who said they risked getting written up or having their hours reduced in the future. One employee said, “A minor (under 18 years of age) was told if he obeyed his parents and went out of town with them it would result in his termination.”

But while some may want to get the extra holiday pay and hours, they haven’t been given the opportunity to volunteer. Only one of the 66 said their store gave them an opportunity to sign up. Nearly half also said they didn’t have or weren’t aware of seasonal employees at their stores. On the other hand, just 14 percent of them got the schedule they requested, while 27 percent didn’t get what they asked for and the vast majority, 59 percent, never had the option to make a request. As one respondent put it, “Employees were given their Thanksgiving schedules against their will and all of the employees working on Thanksgiving [in my store] are PERMANENT EMPLOYEES who didn’t volunteer and they had NO CHOICE if they wanted to work or not on Thanksgiving.”

Another shared this story: “No choice was ever given to us, we have to work. I ended up giving my notice with Kmart because of this. My last day is Wednesday, November 26th. My husband has cancer and I refuse to work Thanksgiving. I may never have another Thanksgiving with him. I quit.”

In fact, another sign cropped up indicating that the holidays were blacked out for days off:

Kmart sign

Three other signs had previously been reported saying the same thing.

The company has also said that schedules are posted an average of two weeks in advance, even for the holidays. But just 21 percent of the surveyed workers said they had gotten their Thanksgiving and Black Friday hours that early. By contrast, 20 percent said their holiday schedule was still changing or likely to change. “I received my schedule on Friday Nov. 21 where it was up for about 3 hours then pulled down and changed along with a note saying that it had changed and would continue to change so to keep checking,” one worker reported. “Not to mention most of the employees are scheduled for 12 hours on Thanksgiving! And these are full-time employees who have been at Kmart for decades, not ‘seasonal volunteers.’” Another said, “The schedule is posted nowhere near two weeks in advanced. Ours was out on the Friday before the week of Thanksgiving. Working is mandatory unless you somehow don’t get scheduled.”

And the directives seem to be coming from the company itself, not from individual store managers. “The fact that Thanksgiving is so enforced by Kmart was not up to my scheduling manager,” one employee said, “and even she was upset to force so many people to work such long shifts on a national holiday.”

A request for comment about the survey was not immediately returned. But in a previous statement, the company said, “[O]ur stores do their very best to staff with seasonal associates and those who volunteer to work holidays. Seasonal associates are told upon hire of our holiday store hours and we make every effort to accommodate associate shift requests during this time.” It added, “All associates are compensated time and a half pay for the hours they work on Thanksgiving Day. We continue to express deep appreciation in advance to all associates who will be working Thanksgiving and Black Friday.”

Kmart employees aren’t the only ones being asked to work the holiday, nor are they the only ones facing termination if they refuse. A Target employee who started a petition asking the store to close on Thanksgiving Day told ThinkProgress that no one is allowed to ask for the holiday off and employees are told they could be fired if they don’t show up. Ten other brands will be open on the national holiday this year, requiring millions of employees to spend time at work and not at home celebrating. About one in four American workers say they’ll have to work on a holiday this year, either Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s Day.

But pushback against this trend has been growing. Change.org has 71 petitions with more than 207,000 signatories total asking companies to “save Thanksgiving,” including nearly 100,000 on the Target employee’s, nearly 50,000 on one focused on Macy’s, and nearly 20,000 on one focused on Kmart. Jillian Fisher’s petition on Coworker.org asking Kmart to give employees like her mother flexibility around the holidays has reached more than 10,000.

Pressure isn’t just coming from employees: Half of Americans think opening on Thanksgiving Day is a terrible idea. Less than one in five people who plan to shop on Thanksgiving weekend say they’ll do it on the holiday and the majority won’t go to a store anyway.