Nick’s parents have already bought him a $600 flight home for Thanksgiving. The tickets would allow him to not just be with them and the aunts and uncles he gets to see regularly, but to spend time with his great-grandmother, an increasingly precious experience. “My great-grandmother is probably going to pass away in a year or so, so every chance I get to see her is a very welcome opportunity,” he said.
But as of Monday, he still didn’t know whether he will be able to get on the plane next week. He’s been working at Kmart since end of June as a supervisor, and while the company has said that it will be open starting at 6 a.m. Thanksgiving morning until 10 p.m. on Black Friday, he said no one has given him his schedule yet, even though they are usually posted on Thursdays.
The store’s management has communicated very little. But it seems likely that his holiday plans won’t go as he’s hoping. Through word of mouth among his coworkers, he’s gotten the impression that it’s not a question of if he’ll work on the holiday, but when. And if he is scheduled to work, he probably won’t get a morning shift that might allow him to take off for home later in the day; he thinks he’ll probably start work at 6 a.m. that day and have to stick around until late in the night.
“I’ve missed a couple of Thanksgivings, but they were all usually due to distance,” he said. “If I can’t use those tickets to go down there, my family’s just wasted 600 bucks. I don’t think Kmart’s going to give me an extra 600 dollars to give back to my family.”
Nick’s uncertain situation is not necessarily widespread. While a survey of self-indentified Kmart employees conducted by Coworker.org last week found that 95 percent still didn’t know their holiday schedule, the newer responses from this week almost all say they’ve received their schedules. A spokesperson for Kmart said that its policy is to have store managers post holiday schedules two weeks in advance, adding, “At this time, we have not been made aware of any complaints received from our associates regarding their work schedules. We are also not aware of any store manager that has not provided associates with holiday schedules.”
But Nick isn’t alone. Elizabeth (who asked not to use her real name), who has worked at Kmart for more than two years, also didn’t know her holiday schedule as of Monday. She had been told by human resources that schedules would be posted by Monday morning, but they weren’t there when she went in for work. All she’s been told is the store’s Thanksgiving hours. Meanwhile, she’s trying to balance planning for two different meals with two different sides of the family. “I’m on standby,” she said. “I’ve told my family, ‘Hey I know y’all are coming, but I still don’t know my schedule yet…’ They’re not certain if I’m going to be able to be there, how much food are we going to fix.”
The complications won’t necessarily end once Nick, Elizabeth, and all other Kmart employees find out their schedules, however. Both Nick and Elizabeth have gathered that they aren’t allowed to request time off or specific shifts. And in the Coworker survey, the vast majority have said that they haven’t been given any chance to volunteer for shifts. One respondent said, “We were given no option of what [shifts] we are working. There are several employees who are working outside of their availability and they were not told about it prior to the schedule.” Meanwhile, none said that their managers had indicated willingness to accommodate their scheduling requests, and many said they had to accept whatever they were assigned to.
The company spokesperson said, “Our store managers do their very best to accommodate requests from full-time and part-time associates who seek — additional hours during the holiday, specific shifts (we have several different shifts for morning or afternoon) or time off.”
Kmart isn’t the only store that will open on Thanksgiving Day this year, either. Macy’s, Target, and Walmart have all said they will be open, and last year Target employees reported dealing with many of the challenges Kmart employees are facing this year.
Elizabeth has been told that if she or anyone else is scheduled for work on Thanksgiving but calls out, they could face getting fired, depending on the discretion of management. “Considering I need my job, I will have to try and work the dinners around” whatever her schedule ends up being, she said. Other employees have been told that calling out will be treated as an infraction, which, when incurred enough times, can lead to termination, and that they will also lose their holiday pay.
Last year Elizabeth worked both Thanksgiving and Black Friday, getting to work at 5 a.m. on Thursday and getting off around 3. “By the time I got home, I had enough time to scarf my food in my face, chill with the families, and pretty much went to bed,” she said. “I had to have enough sleep to get up the next day to work another 12-hour shift.” That meant she was only able to see a handful of the family members who were in from out of town in the half hour she spent with them. “I feel like I have to pick and choose who I talk to,” she said.
This year would end up being no different, except that it’s her infant daughter’s first Thanksgiving and everyone will want to see her. Work hours will disrupt everything. “It’s going to end up forcing me to pick one side of the family,” she said. “I don’t really want to do that. I’d rather be with both sides of the family.”
“We’ve worked [on Thanksgiving] every frickin year,” she said of her and her coworkers. “Something’s got to give. At this point, nothing is giving.”