Wal-Mart, Target employees’ plight saps fun out of Black Friday

In this Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012 photo a worker pulls a line of shopping carts toward a Walmart store in North Kingstown, R.I. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

In this Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012 photo a worker pulls a line of shopping carts toward a Walmart store in North Kingstown, R.I. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

In years past the highlight of Thanksgiving may have been a turkey with all the trimmings, delicious desserts, spending quality time with family and friends and maybe even watching a movie later that evening. Nowadays, consumers are camping outside of stores waiting for Black Friday and even Black Thursday this year.

The National Retail Federation says consumers will spend $586.1 billion on holiday shopping this year, up 4.1 percent from last year.  Retailers are matching competitor prices and store hours to attract customers.

The holiday shopping creep may delight some bargain shoppers who are on the hunt for a great deal, but some employees of retail giants such as Target and Wal-Mart are not happy about having to work on one of the few holidays they receive.

Target plans to open at 9:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving and some employees are not taking “Black Thursday” lying down. C Renee, a Target employee based in Corona, California created a petition on Change.org called “Target: Take the high road and save Thanksgiving.” Nearly 369,000 people have signed the petition so far. The goal is to garner 500,000 signatures by Thanksgiving.

Although, according to Target’s blog, a bullseye view, the company states only one-third of its store team members are scheduled to work on Thanksgiving. TheGrio.com reached out to Target for an updated statement, but has not received a response.

This may not be enough to satisfy consumers, employees or even shareholders.  John Harrington, President and CEO of Harrington Investments based in Napa, California, owns 16,635 shares of Target. These shares are valued at over $1 million.

Harrington wrote a letter to Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel asking the company to reconsider opening on Thanksgiving.

Harrington says employees deserve national holidays. “I think it demeans the employee and demeans the major stakeholders of Target. In some degree it demeans the consumer in this over commercialized frenzy,” Harrington says.

He says Target’s decision to open on Thanksgiving may prompt him to sell shares.

“We will sell shares and retain enough to remain a shareholder to continue to have input into the company. We seem to have more input as an owner and not just as a customer,” Harrington explains.

Target is not the only retailer experiencing backlash over Thanksgiving store hours. Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer and employer, is facing a possible walkout from some of its 1.3 million employees on Black Friday.

Wal-Mart employees across the country are protesting and speaking out with plans to strike on Black Friday. “We tried on several occasions to speak to management directly,” says Colby Harris, a full-time associate at a Wal-Mart in Dallas. “We want them to fix things such as unaffordable health care and low wages.”

The three-year Wal-Mart associate claims he and other colleagues have been retaliated against for speaking out. “I’ve been spied on. Anything you can think of they have tried,” Harris says.

Harris rejects the notion that if he is not happy at Wal-Mart he should seek employment elsewhere.  He says this is about current and future Wal-Mart employees. “If you look back at civil rights, people had to lose to gain a lot. There’s been a change in the country when people came out and said this isn’t right. This is when change comes,” he says passionately.

Harris hopes the impact of this anticipated strike go well beyond the walls of Wal-Mart. “If you can change big corporations everyone else will follow suit. When Wal-Mart changed their Black Friday policy, other companies follow suit. They set the standard,” Harris explains.

Wal-Mart claims the UFWC (United Food & Commercial Workers International Union) are pushing employees to strike. Harris says associates wants health care and pay addressed “whether it comes through unionization or not.”

TheGrio contacted Wal-Mart about the proposed strike. Here is an excerpt from their statement:

“The super majority of our 1.3 million associates are excited about Black Friday and are ready to serve our customers.”

The statement goes on to say, “The reality is that there are only a handful of associates, at a handful of stores scattered across the country that are participating in these UFCW made for TV events.”

“The fact is, we do not expect these actions by a very small minority of our associates (less than .0003 percent) at a handful of stores to have any impact on our stores or our experience on Black Friday.”

Wal-Mart filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Friday to prevent workers from striking on Black Friday.  The NLRB is an independent federal agency responsible for protecting the rights of private sector employees.

“This is somewhat complicated and raises some unique legal issues,” says Nancy Cleeland, NLRB spokesperson.

Although the NLRB is constrained by time, accuracy is their main priority. “We don’t have a lot of time work with. Obviously we want to be right, careful and thorough and also be as fast as we can possibly be,” Cleeland says.

Shartia Brantley is a producer and on-air reporter at CNBC. Follow Shartia on Twitter at @shartiabrantley