What the hell is Brown Thursday you ask? And why are we flipping birds at it? Well, my friend, Brown Thursday is the horribly named* phenomena of big box retailers pushing their Black Friday doorbuster sales earlier and earlier until they actually start taking over Thanksgiving Day itself. The last few years have seen a gradual increase in midnight Black Friday sales and late night Brown Thrusday sales, but this year is the first time that the two super retailers Walmart and Target started getting in on this abysmal practice.
There are a lot of things wrong with the whole idea of Black Friday, but an often overlooked part is the impact it has on employees of the stores.
What makes Brown Thursday such a despicable and soul-destroying sign of the times is the impact it has on the employees of these retailers. Christmas 2009 I worked as a Team Lead at a Target during the holiday season. To be more exact I was the Toys and Electronics Team Lead. Yeah, it was miserable. I worked my ass off every day getting my sections ready for the big day, pushed team members to their limit, and got in trouble several times for going into overtime because that was the only way everything could get done. We were under-staffed, under-houred (meaning even the small team we did have were given minimal hours), and under-trained, but we were expected to do what a fully staffed, fully prepared team would have found difficult. All this under-ing, of course, was completely intentional**: get the bare minimum amount of workers you can and work them for as few hours as possible to save payroll money, but push them to their limits to maximize profits. And that’s just the days and weeks leading up to Black Friday.
For the big day itself, you were either one of the lucky ones who had to show up at 4am to do a 2-hour set up before the crushing throngs of people stampeded over you to get at a Zsu Zsu pet or you were one of the unlucky ones who had to show up for a couple hours the afternoon of Thanksgiving to do prep work for the next day’s setup and then show up to work again by noon on Black Friday. Either way you were going to be working a 12 hour shift with barely an hour’s worth of breaks surrounded by ginormous crowds of people who only care about getting the cheapest of cheap crap. Of course, this was only for the sales floor and cashier people, the stock room and planogram people had even worse hours leading up to Black Friday. Now, our Black Friday opened at 6am, imagine shifting all of that 6 hours ahead so it could open at midnight, or 10 hours ahead so it could be an 8pm Brown Thursday. The point is, Black Friday, and all of the endless holiday sales promotions, steal retail workers away from their family and loved ones during the holiday season. I barely got 10 hours to cook and have dinner with my husband on Thanksgiving. For Christmas I had 22 hours to drive half-way across Texas to be with my extended family (didn’t even get to see my parents that year). Retail work during the holidays is a miserable affair, even when you’re as privileged as I was as a Team Lead working full time and making a fairly decent paycheck. If I had been a team member getting barely 20 hours a week and making only minimum wage, that holiday season would have been a heck of a lot worse.
Now, that was in 2009, in Texas, in a military town with a little bubble economy that had only just barely been touched by the recession. This is 2011, with a real unemployment rate hovering around 15%. Retail workers facing down early Black Fridays or Brown Thursdays are being strung over a barrel by their employers. They are put in the double bind of being asked to work long hours on a national holiday for exceedingly low pay in a dangerous work environment or lose their jobs and their source of income. And with the still majorly recessed economy, consumers out there are as hungry as ever for these over-hyped and deeply cut sales prices because they’re having to stretch a dollar pretty far to make ends meet, let alone have a satisfying holiday season. Honestly, this is a great example of one of the myriad of ways that the 1%, the corporation executives of these retailers, pit consumers and retail workers, who together make up the 99%, against one another to keep them struggling to get by while they reap in massive profits off of our sweat and blood.
Which is why, this year, I’ve decided to Occupy Black Friday. I’ll be going out shopping on Black Friday, but I won’t be going to any of the big retail stores. There will be no Walmart trips or Target shopping sprees. Instead, I will go out this Friday and shop the dozens of local Ma and Pa shops that are around town and I will buy as many of my Christmas gifts from there as possible. The few gifts that I will have to get from big box retailers will not be purchased from any store that participated in a Brown Thursday sale or from an early Black Friday sale. I will be staying away from any company that decided to put profits over people this holiday season. And since I know that just my one little act of rebellion against the status quo won’t even register as a blip on the 1%’s radar, I hope that the idea spreads and that more people decide to go local with their holiday shopping until we can get this point across to these big corporations. So let’s Occupy Black Friday together and really flip the bird (be it a figurative middle finger or large, tasty turkey) at this whole Brown Thursday mess.
Bonus: every dollar you spend in a big chain store, only 43¢ goes into the local economy. Spend that same dollar at a locally-owned business, and 68¢ is reinvested locally.
*Seriously ‘Brown Thursday’ conjures up mental images of tryptophan filled excrement, but that might just be my bias showing through *shrug*
**While I never got a memo stating that we should make sure we’re always understaffed and undertrained, I was a part of the interviewing, hiring, and training process for team members. I saw first hand what the practices, standards, and realities of the situation were.