Kmart to Employees: Work on Thanksgiving or Get Fired?

Courtesy of Jillian FisherThe Fisher family's Thanksgiving holiday is being disrupted by Kmart's schedule.
Thanksgiving is a time for family, friends, football and stores opening early to catch as much business as possible. Although not all retailers will treat Thursday as another time to sell -- dozens such as Costco (COST), GameStop (GME) and Nordstrom (JWN) won't open -- many will.

One of the most aggressive is Kmart (SHLD), with stores opening at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving and then doing business for 42 hours straight through Black Friday. The company claims that it tries to staff its locations with volunteers and seasonal workers.

But according to Jillian Fisher, the organizer of a petition asking the company to give people time off on Thanksgiving Day, Kmart hasn't made the necessary efforts. In addition, some employees say they've been told not working will result in disciplinary action, up to being fired.

More Hours, More Deals on Thanksgiving

Historically, stores had stayed closed on Thanksgiving, with the day after -- Black Friday -- kicking off holiday shopping. But that has evolved, with the opening time on Black Friday kept being pushed back further into the wee hours until it cycled around to hit Thanksgiving Day.

As DailyFinance has reported, Thanksgiving has become the biggest deal day of the season. Many stores open early because they fear that consumers will spend much of their available money then and that any business not open runs the risk of losing a lot of revenue in a critical sales period.

However, for stores to be open, someone must work. According to a recent survey of 3,719 workers,16 percent of respondents said they had to work on Thanksgiving. The number climbs to 39 percent in retail -- which still falls shy of the 46 percent in leisure and hospitality.

Petition Is Part of Social Media Backlash

The drive to make more money on Thanksgiving has created a major social media backlash, according to the New York Post. There are sites devoted to boycotting stores that do open.

The Kmart petition is part of the movement. Jillian Fisher, a 25-year-old whose mother has worked for Kmart for 21 years, saw her mom, Donna Fisher, get into trouble last year.

"She had to work a split shift, which would leave her no time to spend with her family," the younger Fisher said to DailyFinance. Her mother had said in advance that she would work the morning five-hour shift but not the evening one. As a result, the older Fisher lost some holiday bonus pay and received an infraction, a disciplinary notice in her file.

"I decided it was really time to make a stand," Fisher said about the petition. "I didn't want the same issue to happen again."

Forced to Volunteer?

According to Fisher, working on Thanksgiving has "never been an option" for her mother, who was never asked to volunteer. Furthermore, a number of people who signed the petition self-identified as Kmart employees. She sent them an anonymous survey through the site and received 56 responses. It wasn't a scientific survey, but Fisher said she saw some patterns in the answers.

"We found ... that as of last Monday, 43 percent had not yet received their [work] schedule," she said, even though Kmart had allegedly told employees they would receive their schedules two weeks in advance. One employee claimed that at that store workers were told they would be automatically fired if they didn't arrive to work on Thanksgiving.

Also, only three of the employees said they were given an option to volunteer, even though the company claims that it's trying to staff stores with volunteers and seasonal workers.

"It's upsetting to hear them continue to say that," Fisher said. "It's not true. From the results we gathered, it's mandatory at these stores."

What Kmart's Statement Says

Fisher says that she's not suggesting that Kmart remain closed on Thanksgiving. "Kmart's been opened on Thanksgiving for 27 years," she said. "Just because you have workers doesn't mean you can abuse them. It's giving the workers a voice. Also, making everyone aware of what's going on in the stores. It doesn't mean we go away after Thanksgiving or that we we're not back next year."

Kmart did not make someone available for an interview and provided a statement stressing that the company has opened at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day for the past four years "based on positive feedback" from customers. "Our stores do their very best to staff with seasonal associates and those who volunteer to work holidays," the statement continued. "Seasonal associates are told upon hire of our holiday store hours, and we make every effort to accommodate associate shift requests during this time. Associate schedules are posted, on average, two weeks in advance -- including for holiday schedules. All associates are compensated time and a half pay for the hours they work on Thanksgiving Day."
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