A little more than two weeks before the most important holiday of the year for Jillian Fisher’s mother, who has worked at Kmart for more than two decades, she still didn’t know whether and when she would have to show up for a shift.
Thanksgiving is the only time her mother gets to see her all of her siblings and family — it’s the only holiday all of her children, brothers, sisters, nephews, and nieces get together. And as of Tuesday, she didn’t know if her job was going to block her from being with them. All her store in the Pennsylvania/Delaware area had done to communicate about the holiday was put up a sheet for people to volunteer for shifts on Thanksgiving — not whether they wanted to work, but when they would be willing to come in, as last year it was made clear everyone would have to work some part of the day.
“She’s planning as though she’s going to be able to come home and spend some part of the dinner with us,” Fisher said on Tuesday. “It’s not an option for her to not have that time with her family.”
The good news for her mother is that on Wednesday, the store finally told its employees their schedules for the holiday. Fisher’s mother will be working, but her request to have hours in the morning so she could go home for an evening meal were honored. They were also told that the store would be opening at 6 a.m. on Thursday morning and would stay open until 10 p.m. on Black Friday, hours that the company confirmed to ThinkProgress.
But the employees themselves are mostly still in the dark. In a survey of 40 self-identified Kmart employees in 18 states conducted by Coworker.org and shared with ThinkProgress, 95 percent said they still don’t know their schedules for Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday, and 70 percent say their managers haven’t even told them what the store’s hours will be. A company spokesperson said in an email this is not consistent with store protocol, which is to post all schedules, including for holidays, two weeks in advance and to limit any changes.
Last year, Kmart insisted that it tried to staff holiday shifts with volunteers and seasonal workers. It’s saying the same thing this year, with the spokesperson saying, “Our store managers do their very best to honor requests of full-time and part-time associates and staff with volunteers and seasonal staff to work holidays.” But 90 percent of the employees who responded to the survey said their managers hadn’t asked for volunteers yet. Meanwhile, not a single one said that their managers had said anything about being willing to accommodate their scheduling requests, and many said they had to accept whatever they were assigned to.
Fisher noted that the shift sign up sheet in her mother’s store was an improvement over last year, when employees were simply told when to work. Her mother is also lucky in that the petition that Fisher started last year asking Kmart to let her mother have time at home on the holiday is likely part of why she was able to also get morning hours, go home for the meal, and then go back for an overnight shift. “It was a result of the petition,” Fisher said. “But happens with all of the other families? …There were a lot of people who were working really weird hours, a lot of people who missed out on dinner.”
This year Fisher’s petition has narrower goals: it asks the company to tell all employees their holiday hours immediately and give them at least two weeks’ notice of their schedules without making last minute changes, as well as to rely on volunteers to staff shifts on Thanksgiving. “I think our demands are very, very reasonable. There’s no reason you should be hiding your hours from the people who work for you,” she said. “These people are dedicated to the store, they’re happy they have jobs. That’s not what the problem is. All we’re asking is, can you give the notice so they can plan their holidays?”
While some of the demands seem to have been answered in her mother’s store, the survey shows that it’s not evenly applied.
Workers are other stores are even more fortunate, not having to deal with any Thanksgiving shifts because their stores have announced they’ll be closed. Staples, which opened on the holiday last year, says it will be closed this year, as will GameStop, Mattress Firm, and REI, which will also close on Black Friday.
But three other major retailers — Macy’s, Target, and Walmart — have gone the same route as Kmart and said they will be open on Thanksgiving. While all three won’t be open for nearly as long, they will open in the evening, forcing at least some employees to come to work during mealtime. And as with Kmart, last year Target employees reported that they were banned from asking for the day off and faced getting fired if they didn’t come in, although the company this year said it “works closely with its team members to understand scheduling preferences for the holidays.”