Thanksgiving should mark the start of a festive season, but the millions working this weekend have precious little to celebrate. For many of the working-poor, the big feast isn’t the turkey dinner at home, but the feeding frenzy of the Black Friday sales floor at dawn — a day replete with shopping revelry for consumers but, for workers, one more slog in another workweek without respite from everyday hardship.
This year, however, the holidays might treat some workers slightly more kindly: A 2016 Bloomberg BNA workplace survey found that about 80 percent of workers were granted two paid days off for the Thanksgiving holiday, up from 70 percent the three years prior. It's a tepid improvement, but it could signal that, after decade of boom-bust economic cycles, both our consumption patterns and workplace practices might finally be starting to cool down.
Still, many workers won't have anything close to a leisurely holiday season: Low-wage laborers in stores and restaurants are most likely to be serving you on your day off. In contrast to typical white-collar and manufacturing workers, according to a recent CareerBuilder survey, roughly half of workers in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors are working on Thanksgiving.
Big Box retail’s wide bottom rung — the lowest-paying, least stable retail jobs like cashiers and sales — intersects with other social gaps: Black and Latino workers and women are concentrated in marginal part-time positions, typically with fewer promotional opportunities. And although women workers are driving growth in low-wage retail jobs today, they're uniquely vulnerable on the job, exposed not just to economic insecurity, but also to everyday gender bias and, sometimes, outright abuse.
Activists have, for instance, denounced Walmart over complaints of systemic labor violations going back years, including allegations of discriminatory pay scales for women, sexual harassment, and the denial of basic rights like taking time off for pregnancy or childbirth. Workers are punished when they protest.