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Scam that stole Thanksgiving

Julianne Malveaux | 11/21/2012, 5 p.m.

When I think of Thanksgiving Day, I think of family gathered around a table that groans from the weight of turkey and dressing, green beans and candied yams, mac and cheese or whipped potatoes, and lots of other goodies. I look forward to seeing folks I haven't seen in awhile, savoring the food and fellowship, bringing in the late evening over coffee and pie. Nobody is rushing out to go shopping--most people save that for the Friday after Thanksgiving, often called: Black Friday, because many stores find themselves in the black after the profligate shopping that day.

There have been tragedies associated with Black Friday shopping. A few years back a Walmart employee was trampled to death by a crowd way too eager to get to the consumer goods. There have also been fights, altercations, bruises, and cuts as customers have vied for some of the scarce goods available, or for crazy deals (often only for the first 200 people). Lines often snake around stores as people wait for a chance for a bargain.

Now Walmart has upped the ante. Last year they opened at 10 p.m. and this year they will open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Just when folks settle down from their meal and start swapping lies, someone is going to have to get up and rush to work so they can serve those consumers who want to shop on Thanksgiving Day.

Many of those who will work do so out of desperation. Many Walmart employees don't have a full 40-hour work week; some find their hours adjusted each week. Thanksgiving work will augment scarce incomes. Just this week, I talked with a couple whose joint income at Walmart is $26,000 a year, partly because neither has a full week's schedule.

There are those who say, "well, why do they work there then," suggesting that there are easy alternatives. But Walmart is one of our nation's largest employers, and they often set the tone for similar stores like Best Buy, Sears and others. With Walmart opening at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, their competitors will follow because they don't want to lose momentum to Walmart.

This is why some Walmart employees are protesting the way that Walmart treats its employees. They want to inform the public of illegal actions that Walmart has taken against its employees, and have initiated a series of protests, including strikes, rallies, an online campaign, and other actions.

Their organization, Making Change at Walmart, says that Walmart can help revive our economy if they will simply offer workers full-week schedules and fair pay.

Barbara Ehrenreich captured the ways that people are forced to work at a store very much like Walmart in her book, "Nickeled and Dimed." She wrote about the workers who were forced to work "off the clock," after they had punched out, or before they punched in. She wrote about the low pay. And she wrote about those supervisors who had made a deal with the devil--implementing unfair policies for their own survival.