Jillian Fisher’s mother has worked at Kmart for 21 years. But her mother still doesn’t know if she’s going to be told to work on Thanksgiving this year, even with the holiday two weeks away. If she does, it would ruin her one annual chance to spend time with her siblings and family.
So on Wednesday night, Fisher began a petition on Coworker.org asking Kmart not to stay open for 42 hours beginning at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, or to at least give those employees who want to stay home with friends and family the flexibility to do so. It’s already passed the original goal of 200 signatures and was nearing 300 by Thursday afternoon.
“Last night I looked and was happy there were 30 signatures at 8 p.m.,” she told ThinkProgress. “It feels like there is momentum.”
Last year, Fisher’s mother called her daughter nearly in tears because she was told she would have to work what is called a “split shift” on Thanksgiving Day, meaning she had to spend two chunks of time at work. “She was not going to be able to spend any real time with our family,” Fisher said. “To hear her on the verge of tears really infuriated me, to think why are they doing this to people, they need time to be with their families.” This is the one holiday where the whole family gets together: her mother’s brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces. “Thanksgiving is pretty much the one time of year we all get together,” she said.
It’s that frustration that sparked the petition. “I wanted to bring attention to it because I know it can’t just be her,” she said. And if the signers are any guide, it seems she’s not alone. “I used to work at KMart, and missed MANY holidays with my family. It is NOT volunteer work, it is required,” reads one. “I used to work at K-mart, actually, I worked there for FIVE years, working all of their ridiculous holiday hours. There are no volunteers, and some Boston Market dinner did not make up for the time I missed with my family,” reads another. Workers told the Huffington Post last year that their requests to take the holiday off were denied.
Fisher stresses that it isn’t that her mother doesn’t want to work holidays or difficult shifts. “She knows she works in retail and has to work the crappy hours,” she said. But she says that at least at her mother’s store in the Pennsylvania/Delaware area, workers haven’t even been officially told of the store’s 6 a.m. opening — they’ve only found out through the news — let alone what the schedule might be for the holiday. “She has no idea whether they’re going to be required to work, no idea if they’re going to be hiring more people for seasonal work,” she said.
There have been times when the schedule wasn’t posted until Friday at midnight for a week that starts on Sunday, so it could come down to the wire. “She could be hearing about it as soon as tomorrow or she could be hearing about it in a week,” Fisher explained. “She doesn’t know and nobody knows.”
The store has also claimed that shifts will be staffed by volunteers, but Fisher says that’s not the case at her mother’s store. There hasn’t been any sign-up sheet or calls for people to opt in. And last year when she told her manager to plan not to have her at the store for her second shift, her mother was told she would get written up as a no show. “It seems people are afraid of losing their jobs or getting in trouble if they say they’re not going to do it,” Fisher said.
When asked about whether Kmart has told employees of its early Thanksgiving hours, allowed some to volunteer, given workers their schedules for that week, or will allow them to opt out of working that day without being disciplined, a company spokesperson responded, “Our stores do their very best to staff with seasonal associates and those who volunteer to work holidays. All associates are compensated time and a half pay for the hours they work on Thanksgiving Day. We want to express deep appreciation in advance to all associates who will be working Thanksgiving evening and the day after Thanksgiving.”
Plans haven’t been made yet for how the petition will be delivered to the company. But Tim Newman, campaigns director at Coworker.org, said, “As more Kmart employees begin to sign the petition, I imagine they will work together with their family members (like Jillian) and other supporters to ensure that their message is heard by Kmart executives,” adding, “with Thanksgiving approaching quickly, I’m sure there will be additional activities organized soon.”
Some similar petitions have also cropped up on Change.org, while a Facebook group called Boycott Black Thursday has more than 80,000 likes. They’re all protesting the growing trend of retailers opening on Thanksgiving, rather than waiting for Black Friday: this year 12 brands have said they’ll be open.
In the meantime, Fisher’s mother keeps waiting to hear whether her holiday will be ruined. “My mom’s worked for Kmart for 21 years,” Fisher said. “She’s like, be honest with me, tell me what it is so we can plan.”