What's at Stake for Wal-Mart's Black Friday Walkouts?

4798As commerce nibbles away at the one holiday that cuts across just about all American divides, Wal-Mart workers are becoming bolder about saying no.
Thousands of Wal-Mart employees won't be pushing away from the Thanksgiving meal today to visit with family, watch football, or even clean the dishes. Instead, they'll be heading to work to welcome bargain-hunting shoppers.

But some of the retail giant's employees are opting out this year. One of those is Yesenia Yaber, a cashier at a Chicago Walmart (WMT) store, who says she really needs her job to support her five young children, says she's told her bosses that she can't work on Thanksgiving.

For the past two years, Yaber, who has protested working conditions as part of the union-backed group OUR Walmart, has worked in the early morning for the store's Black Friday sales, the kickoff of the holiday shopping season. This year, she says she was assigned to a shift to prepare for the store's 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day opening. For her, it's not only about being with her children for the holiday meal, it's also a practical matter.

"I can't work overnight," she says. "My mom babysits the kids. Two of my kids are special needs. She can't stay up all night."

For Wal-Mart, it's also a matter OF practicality, though. The door-buster sale is a commercial juggernaut. Last year, stores racked up $52.4 billion in sales over the four-day Thanksgiving shopping weekend, up 16% over the previous year. Nabbing that heavily discounted flat screen TV or tablet isn't just about jostling with fellow budget-minded shoppers; it is a badge of bargain-hunting prowess.

Earlier this month, Wal-Mart and its competitors, including Target (TGT) and Sears (SHLD), announced that bargain specials would start Thursday evening instead of the pre-dawn hours of Friday.

Walmart stores are typically open on Thanksgiving Day, but what was once an optional way for workers to make some holiday overtime cash has now become a source of confrontation. This year, customers will not just be coming in for miscellaneous purchases but are expected to be arriving in droves for serious shopping. To cope with the expected surge of eager shoppers, stores have to be staffed up with a full cadre of employees.

As commerce nibbles away at the one holiday that cuts across religious, income, ethnic, and other American divides, Wal-Mart workers are becoming bolder about saying no, even in this uncertain economy.

Source: CNN Fortune | Elizabeth G. Olson
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