A Find at Gap: Steady Hours Can Help Workers, and Profits

MARCH 28, 2018

In recent years, studies have shown that erratic work schedules can take a major toll on the well-being of service workers.

But many employers in the retail, restaurant and hospitality industries continue to behave as though stable scheduling is an unaffordable luxury.

“I don’t count on the hours in my schedule,” said Sam Stephenson, an employee at a Gap store in Huntersville, N.C. “I don’t count on the money I’m supposed to be getting.”

Now a study involving Ms. Stephenson’s colleagues at more than two dozen Gap retail stores in the Chicago and San Francisco areas, undertaken by a team of researchers with the company’s cooperation, aims to rebut the presumption that stable schedules are too costly. The study shows that more predictable and consistent hours aren’t just compatible with profitability, they can significantly improve a store’s bottom line.

The study randomly assigned about two-thirds of the stores to a so-called treatment group, in which managers were encouraged to provide workers with more consistent start and stop times from day to day, and more consistent schedules from week to week. Many managers were also authorized to slightly increase the total number of payroll hours that they could allocate to their workers. Scheduling at the remaining one-third of the stores continued largely as usual.

The result: The change in average sales during the experiment was 7 percent higher at the stores subject to the new policies than at the stores in the control group.

“They were not operating in the stability sweet spot,” said Joan Williams of the University of California Hastings College of the Law, one of the study’s authors. “We basically held up a mirror to capitalism’s self-image of efficiency and showed the misaligned incentives that are disserving both workers and the company.”

Shifting schedules have long been a complaint in the retail industry and other low-wage fields, and the Gap study suggests that they are a lose-lose proposition. But there was one apparent conundrum at the heart of the findings: While the effect on sales was quite large — the 7 percent increase swamps the 1-to-3 percent improvement that many retailers struggle to achieve — the overall consistency of schedules improved only marginally.

Consider a part-time worker with an average of 16 shifts per month. At stores that attempted to make the changes, nearly 10 of those shifts were scheduled for a consistent time of day. At stores that had not done so, about nine of the shifts were consistent.

The explanation for how such modest changes could lead to such unusually large increases in sales may be that managers focused disproportionately on more experienced employees when it came to stabilizing the number of hours worked from week to week. That, in turn, appears to have lowered turnover among experienced workers, who helped their stores perform better.

“It looks like managers did the rational thing — they had to improve stability, and so they picked the more experienced people,” said Saravanan Kesavan, another author, who teaches business at the University of North Carolina. “Now you have more experienced people in the store, and the productivity you’re seeing increased, leading to higher sales.”

Mr. Kesavan suggested that Gap could reap still greater financial benefits by making schedules even more stable and reducing turnover beyond what the experiment achieved. “The attrition rate is still high,” he said. (Susan Lambert of the University of Chicago was the third author.)

The researchers chose the 28 stores in the study, then randomly selected the 19 where the new policies would take effect for just under a year. Although the managers in those stores had previously agreed to take part, the researchers could not be certain that they carried out all the new policies. The managers were simply urged to do so with the company’s blessing, an approach known as “randomized encouragement design.”

Marshall L. Fisher, a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania who is an expert on retailing and was not involved in the project, said the study provided compelling evidence that “if you treat people decently, you get better results.”

Mr. Fisher cautioned, however, that generalizing from the study to the company writ large, to say nothing of the entire industry, could be complicated. For one thing, he said, it was unclear if the improvement in sales would be as large as the researchers found if the company were to put the new policies in place in all of its stores at once. It is possible that the stores that adopted the new policies became attractive to shoppers, and may have siphoned traffic and sales from other Gap stores.

In a statement, Gap was noncommittal on whether it would introduce most of the changes across all of its stores.

Looming over the study was a gnawing question: Given the effort that went into making workers’ schedules more consistent from day to day and week to week, why wasn’t there more improvement in the actual scheduling?

One answer, the researchers concluded, is that the biggest cause of disruption in work schedules at Gap stores wasn’t the fluctuation in traffic from customers, as was long assumed to be the case in retailing. Overly narrow decision-making at the corporate headquarters was a major factor.

In 2015, as the study was beginning, Gap announcedit would require schedules to be posted at least 10 days in advance at all its stores in the United States. But schedules can nonetheless change quickly. According to interviews the researchers conducted with workers and managers, sales promotions mandated by corporate headquarters often required a large increase in worker-hours on short notice. So did preparing for store visits by executives.

“It’s just been a roller coaster with promo changes,” one manager told the researchers. “This week alone the window changed three times.”

Another manager reported having “probably extended two to three shifts every day in the run up to the visit” by an executive.

The researchers also identified inaccurate information about the size and timing of shipments as a key obstacle to predictable scheduling, since processing new inventory is labor-intensive.

Mr. Fisher said those findings could have an optimistic interpretation, because they suggested that it was largely within the company’s power to smooth out the peaks and troughs in its workers’ schedules. Some companies, like Costco, are able to provide more regular schedules in part by stocking a smaller range of products or scaling back or eliminating promotions.

In a statement, Gap brand’s top human resources official, C. David Ard, said, “We are taking a closer look at certain decisions made at headquarters and actively examining changes that could further stabilize the store scheduling process.”

In the meantime, the fact that an inconveniently timed shipment could derail a store’s schedule may point to a broader issue: Stores like Gap frequently leave little margin for error when it comes to staffing because managers are given targets for labor hours and their ability to meet them figures prominently in their evaluations.

“A lot of the instability comes from managers having tight labor budgets,” said Carrie Gleason, the director of the Fair Workweek Initiative at the Center for Popular Democracy, an advocacy group. “They’re understaffing to basically meet their numbers from one week to the next. It’s management by the practice of triage.”

As part of its scheduling changes in 2015, Gap officially eliminated tentative “on-call” shifts that could be canceled at the last minute. But Ms. Stephenson, the Gap worker in North Carolina, said it was not uncommon for her managers to cancel a shift on short notice when they believe they can get by without an extra worker.

“They try to do the best with what they’ve got, and they’re very apologetic,” Ms. Stephenson said. “They say, ‘Corporate says we don’t have the hours.’”

Mr. Ard said: “While we can’t speak to this particular employee’s experience without further investigation, we will be looking into this issue as we treat such concerns seriously.”

The most important contribution of the Gap study may be to chip away at a rigid approach to labor costs that may not always reflect a rational calculation.

“It is massively useful,” said Ms. Gleason of the Fair Workweek Initiative. “It helps make the business case for why stable schedules work.”

In These Times: Biggest Labor Stories of 2017: The Attacks From Above and the Fight From Below

Originally posted:  MONDAY, DEC 18, 2017, 2:09 PM- BY SHAUN RICHMAN

The first year of any Republican presidential administration is sure to bring new attacks on unions and their allies. This year has seen plenty of anti-labor offensives, as well as inspiring fights and encouraging signs for the future.

Let’s start with the most over-blown “fake news” labor story of 2017: the asinine notion that Donald Trump has a cunning plan to cleave white working-class voters away from the Democratic party by protecting American jobs and giving unions a fair shake. From the coal mines of West Virginia to the Carrier plant of Indiana, Trump’s claims of saving jobs have been spectacles of hucksterism that resulted in fewer good jobs.

His invitation of building-trades leaders to the White House in his first week on the job—once seen as a canny exploitation of union leaders’ simmering resentment towards Democratic party indifference—is now understood as the gesture of a clueless buffoon struggling vainly to treat his new job like his business ventures. “Let’s bring in a few dealmakers and talk about construction projects,” he probably thought. “Maybe they have some good suggestions for how my idiot son-in-law might go about bargaining for peace in the Middle East.”

Read the full article here

Philadelphia Inquirer: The nationwide workers' fight against unpredictable hours has hit Philadelphia

Posted: FEBRUARY 14, 2018 — 5:48 AM EST BY Juliana Feliciano Reyes

Shaheim Wright wants to go back to school.

The Northeast High School graduate is considering zoology. Or maybe biology, so he could take veterinary medicine courses. Most of all, he wants to get a college degree so he can get a better job. Right now, he takes care of the animals at the PetSmart at Cottman and Bustleton Avenues.

But Wright, 19, says it doesn’t seem possible to go to back to school. In part, because his work schedule is so erratic.

“I can’t go and apply for college if I don’t know what days I can go to class,” Wright said, adding that he fears that if he were to call out for a shift, he’d get fired.

On a good week, he’ll get put on the schedule for 30 hours. Other weeks, he’ll get only 16 hours. It’s impossible for him to predict.

“I never know how much money is coming in,” said Wright, who earns $8.75 an hour.

Wright isn’t alone: according to a recent University of California-Berkeley study on Philadelphia’s service sector that surveyed nearly 700 workers, the average worker reported a 14-hour difference between the weeks they worked the most and the least.

It’s why Wright has joined a local campaign to push for city laws that will require employers to offer more consistent hours. He was one of about 40 workers and organizers who marched to City Hall just as the work day ended Tuesday to start the campaign, part of a nationwide movement that has won legislation in San Francisco, Seattle, and New York.

Read the full story here

Billy Penn: How unpredictable schedules hurt Philly service workers

There’s research to back up the Fair Workweek PHL fight.

Originally posted: February 14, 2018 BY Neilay Shah 

On Tuesday, over a hundred low-wage workers in the retail and service industries marched on City Hall to demand “Fair Workweek” legislation. In a press conference that followed, a few shared stories of how unpredictable work schedules had derailed their lives.

Among those workers was Shaheim Wright. “I have to plan my life around my work schedule,” the 19-year-old Philly resident told Billy Penn in an interview.

Shaheim had wanted to become a veterinarian, he said, but he needed to continue supporting himself and his family while in school. He took a pet care associate job at PetSmart, thinking the job would not only enable him to help his family pay their bills, but also give him an opportunity to work with animals.

But PetSmart varies his schedule wildly — he works anywhere between 10 and 40 hours per week — and only gives him two days notice of his schedule before it starts. As a consequence, Shaheim struggled to attend classes and to make ends meet.

Read the full article here

Hartford Business: Coalition backs 'fair workweek' bill limiting on-call work scheduling

Originally posted: March 6, 2019- By John Stearns

A group of legislators and activists hosted a press conference Tuesday morning to support a so-called "fair workweek" bill limiting what they call abusive on-call scheduling across large retail, food service, hospitality and certain nursing home operations.

The Fair Workweek Coalition is backing Senate Bill 321, which would limit on-call shift scheduling by guaranteeing workers are compensated for lost time when hours are cut at the last minute.

Advocates say the bill, which is receiving a public hearing today in the Committee on Children, can lift up the state's low-wage hourly workers who struggle to earn a stable income because of unpredictable work schedules and are often called to work with little notice, maintain open availability for "on-call" shifts without any guarantee of work, and have shifts canceled at the last minute.

The Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA), opposes the measure. In written testimony on the bill, CBIA lobbyist Eric Gjede said it would prohibit on-call employment by requiring employers to give at least 24 hours prior notice to an employee of such employee's shift.

"In the clear majority of employment circumstances, employers are able to provide employees with their schedules well in advance," Gjede said. "However, on-call employment positions are a critical component of certain industries that are unable to determine their labor needs in advance."

Employers may not have the resources, equipment or materials needed for segments of their workforce to work on a particular day. Further, it makes employers unable to adjust for unexpected employee absences, he said.

For example, he said, builders may be forced to pay workers to install materials that have not yet been delivered to the job site.

"Mandating employers in certain industries commit to the size of their workforce in advance will also mandate the employer take a financial loss during periods of time in which their business is slower or busier than expected," he said.

Meantime, Lori Pelletier, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, supports the bill.

"It's hard enough to be a low-wage worker in Connecticut – struggling to cover rent, put food on the table, pay for childcare, and meeting many of life's other basic necessities," she said. "But on-demand scheduling for low-wage workers makes it downright impossible to make ends meet."

WHYY: Part-time workers tell Philly City Council of haphazard scheduling, inadequate hours

Part-time workers have trouble dealing with unstable hours and other uncertainties that are becoming more common in today’s economy. And a University of California study showed two-thirds of Philadelphia hourly workers report irregular work hours.

At a hearing on the  issue, City Council’s Committee on Children and Youth listened to witnesses including Shaheim Wright who supports a family of seven. He said he lost his job after demanding more hours that coincided with mass transit scheduling.

“My co-workers and I are expected to be completely flexible, but our jobs aren’t flexible with us,” Wright said.

Food service worker Mary Garten told Council members she’s scheduled week to week with no certainty of hours or days.

“It would be just nice to have a schedule two weeks out in advance so you can make doctor’s appointments, go to school, and have the autonomy of
living your life outside your workplace,” she said.

Working as a home visitor of pregnant women and nursing mothers, nurse Erin Blair testified that she constantly sees issues of chaotic scheduling.

“This week alone, I’ve had four cancelled visits,” she said. “They were cancelled the day before or the same day for my moms that were able to let me know, and they were cancelled because they were called into work.”

The workers said they’re seeking advance scheduling and a fair work week so they can plan instead of working virtually day to day.

The National Retail Federation’s Senior Vice President for Government Relations David French released a statement saying mandates for consistent scheduling could divert limited resources from job training and other benefits.

“In response to employee need, these businesses have worked diligently to voluntarily provide solutions that balance flexibility for their employees and the services consumers expect. We recommend this Committee not disrupt the solutions employers have developed to address scheduling flexibility,” the statement said.

Philadelphia Citizen: Fixing the Shift

A grass roots group fighting for a fairer work week arrives in Philly today. Will it make getting ahead easier for those who need it?

Originally posted: FEB. 13, 2018 BY JANE M. VON BERGEN

atori Price earns just $12 an hour at her job at a Center City Target—and she needs every bit of it. Just 19, Price is the only person with a job in her seven-person household. She supports her disabled mother, her younger siblings and her newborn niece.

But Price—like many low-wage workers—struggles with more than just her low wage. She also must contend with the volatility of her schedule. From week to week, she often doesn’t know when she is going to work, how many hours she’ll get, or even if shifts will be canceled at the last minute. Or, she’ll get last minute calls to come in on her days off to work some desperately-needed hours—but can’t.

“I didn’t have the car fare,” Price said on Thursday. “I’m completely broke until tomorrow. The only reason I can go into work today is because the El is free with the Eagles.”

Hard on the heels of the Fight for $15 minimum wage campaign, a group that has won legislation or regulation changes involving work schedules in three states and seven cities is launching a drive in Philadelphia. The Fair Workweek Initiative will kick off its campaign in Philadelphia on Tuesday, with a rally at 12th and Chestnut streets, followed by a march to City Hall, where organizers will demand that City Council pass legislation requiring fair and consistent schedules for hourly workers.

Read the full article here

Bloomberg News: Retailers' Goal of Challenging Amazon Hindered by Labor Woes

  • Workers want commitment that chains are hesitant to provide

  • Plethora of low-wage, part-time positions spark high turnover

Originally posted: December 6, 2017, 7:00 AM EST By Lindsey Rupp and  Sho Chandra

Brick-and-mortar retailers hoping to fend off Amazon.com Inc. need to deploy the one weapon that could set them apart: top-notch customer service, provided by actual humans.

But making that goal a reality relies on something they’ve not really invested in -- well-trained employees with the kinds of wages and regular hours that make them want to stick around.

This illustrates traditional retailers’ dilemma. In the face of existential threats such as e-commerce and declining mall traffic, more generous pay might improve service. But it comes at the risk of spooking skeptical investors, who are already closely monitoring costs and margins.

Read full article here.

Vox: The fight to make bad jobs better

Why some cities are regulating schedules for retail and fast food workers.

This is the fourth episode in a six-part video series about the future of work. Follow the series at vox.com/shiftchange.

By Joss Fongjoss@vox.com

Originally published:  Dec 4, 2017, 11:30am EST

As of November 26, 2017, fast food companies in New York are required to post worker schedules 14 days in advance. If they change the schedule within that window, they will pay an extra fee to the workers who are affected. And before they hire more people, they must offer the available hours to their existing part-time workers.

These are what worker advocates call “fair work week” measures. San Francisco, Seattle, and the state of Oregon have passed similar regulations for retail and fast food workers, with the goal of securing predictable schedules and paychecks for low-wage hourly workers.

These efforts, paired with increases in some state minimum wages and paid sick leave rules, are a response to the “bad jobs” of today’s service economy: Hourly work with low pay, poor benefits, and sometimes chaotic schedules that make it difficult for workers to plan their lives. Now that the economy has recovered from the great recession, advocates are pushing back against cost-cutting measures that employers relied on to keep labor costs down.

E-commerce and automation will likely limit traditional job growth in retail and fast food, but advocates won’t let conversations about job quantity silence those about job quality, especially with the unemployment rate last reported at 4.1 percent.

“We're seeing automation take off in a lot of areas, in warehouses. We're seeing robots do the shelf stocking. We're seeing self-checkout with the cashiers,” said Carrie Gleason, who directs the Fair WorkWeek Initiative at the Center for Popular Democracy.

“But I think that there's still gonna be a lot of jobs in this country. And when we think about what to do about it, raising the bar and setting new protections for people, making these jobs good jobs, and demonstrating how good jobs are good for the economy, that's, to me, the best response.”

To learn more about the economic trends that have squeezed low-wage service workers, watch the video above, and check out vox.com/shiftchange for the rest of this series.

CBS News: What the holidays are telling us about the future of work

Originally published 11/29/2017 5:00 AM

In Sheboygan, Wisconsin, shoppers hoping to bring their children to the mall for a traditional sit-down with Santa are out of luck this year. 

Faced with a steady decrease in customers and an aging building, the city's Memorial Mall closed down recently, taking its mall Santa with it. One Yelp reviewer called it "the saddest mall I have ever seen," noting that it looked like "a scene out of a horror or dystopian film." 

Less than two hours away from Sheboygan, another type of retailer is thriving in Wisconsin: Amazon.com (AMZN). The online retailing giant opened its Kenosha warehouse in 2015, employing 1,500 full-time workers in a modern plant. This summer, Amazon hosted a job fair at the Wisconsin warehouse as part of an effort to hire 50,000 people for packing and shipping jobs -- in one day. 

While less than 100 miles apart, the mall and Amazon's warehouse illustrate the flip sides of one of America's biggest industries -- retail. Profound changes to the sector are raising questions, and stirring anxiety, as some stores shutter locations and others hire, spurred largely by Americans' embrace of e-commerce. Almost 16 million Americans -- or one of 10 in the labor force -- work in retail, eclipsing employment in manufacturing, education and construction. 

Holiday retail sales so far this year demonstrate why Americans are increasingly skipping the mall and shopping online instead. "Cyber Monday" this week was America's largest-ever online shopping day, with about $6.6 billion in spending. By comparison, Black Friday shoppers, including those who visited brick-and-mortar stores spent about $5 billion, according to Adobe Analytics. 

The retail industry has been in flux for decades, of course, with giants like Walmart (WMT) and other big-box stores long ago changing the commercial face of cities and towns across the US. But the process has been especially visible of late, with more than a dozen retailers declaring bankruptcy this year, including Toys "R" Us and The Limited. 

Yet while those high-profile collapses have prompted talk of a "retail apocalypse" and fears of massive job losses, some experts think predictions of retail's demise have been greatly exaggerated.

"In fact, total retail employment -- having fallen in the 2008-9 recession -- has bounced back to recently hit a new high," said Dan Wang, an analyst at Gavekal Research, in a research note, noting the surge in hiring spurred by e-commerce. Warehousing and fulfillment jobs have increased by about 85 percent to 1 million positions since 2000, according to his report. Couriering jobs have grown by about 15 percent, while non-store retailers now employ about 600,000 people, up from 500,000 in 2000. 

"There is an often stated view that the shift to online retailing is creating low-wage drone work in fulfillment centers or badly paying 'gig' jobs to the determent of 'real' positions, which are being lost," Wang wrote. But that picture is incorrect, he added.

For one, traditional retail jobs are notorious for low pay and meager benefits. Only about 8 percent of retail workers have what would be considered a "good" job, or one that pays at least $15 an hour and includes benefits such as health care, paid leave and full-time hours, according to a recent survey of more than 1,000 retail workers by the Fair Workweek Initiative, a left-leaning advocacy group. 

Those warehouse jobs might not pay $15 an hour either, but they tend to have higher wages than that earned by most retail workers. That's likely due to the fact that technology is boosting the productivity of warehouse workers, allowing wages to grow faster than traditional workers like cashiers or stockers. Online retail workers' productivity rose about 60 percent since 2007, compared with a 25 percent rise in the retail sector as a whole, he added. 

Workers at Amazon warehouses report higher pay than the typical Walmart store associate earns, according to Indeed.com. The typical sales associate at Walmart -- the largest private employer in the U.S. -- earns $9.36 an hour, according to more than 8,700 salary reports on the employment site. By comparison, the typical warehouse worker at Amazon earns about one-third more per hour, with an average hourly wage of $12.31, according to more than 9,300 pay reports at Indeed.com. 

"The next decade will see plenty of famous retail names disappear. Others will adjust to the new environment, as Walmart's latest results suggest it is doing," Wang predicted. "That process will be disruptive, but there is no evidence that it is economically debilitating for both customers and for employees and therefore no bad thing for the economy more broadly." 

The New York Times: Retail Jobs Don’t Need to Be Bad. Here’s Proof.

Originally published on 11/28/2017

Bethamy Magrow is grateful that the minimum wage in New York City is rising to $13 at the end of next month. Earning the current minimum of $11 an hour at a Times Square fashion retailer and scheduled to work some weeks for only 19 hours, the 25-year-old sales worker realizes she doesn’t quite clear New York’s poverty line.

It would be nice if her schedule didn’t change so much from week to week, she told me, so she could set up her doctors’ appointments in advance. But at least New York bars retailers from changing the schedule from one day to the next. In any case, jobs she has had at Whole Foods and Pokéworks, a restaurant on Union Square, were no better or worse.

Millions of Americans have similar stories to tell. For all the talk about the “end of retail,” it is one of the largest employers in the country, accounting for about one in eight workers in the private sector. For every miner toiling in the United States, there are almost 25 retail workers. Manufacturing, the apple of President Trump’s eye, doesn’t employ nearly as many.

Typically paying full-time employees less than $33,000 a year, well below the midpoint across the economy, retail jobs have become the work of the lower class, the main source of support for Americans left behind by economic change.

This raises a fairly urgent question: If retail work sets the living standard for so many low-income families, why doesn’t it get more attention?

A survey of 1,100 retail workers published this month by the Center for Popular Democracy, a liberal-leaning advocacy group, found that only one in about 12 front-line retail workers were in jobs considered of high quality — meaning that they were employed full time, were paid at least $15 an hour and were offered health insurance and at least one form of paid leave. One in three had not gotten a raise in the last two years. Almost half had received some form of government assistance in the previous year.

Perhaps policymakers believe that undesirable sales jobs are inevitable features of the economic landscape; that the lot of poorly paid cashiers results from powerful market forces like automation and globalization over which they have little control. The truth is that retail work doesn’t have to be so unpleasant. A quick look around Europe underscores that retailers can profit, even thrive, and still provide their workers a better deal.

This is the proposition of “Where Bad Jobs Are Better,” a study published last month by the Russell Sage Foundation. The authors — the labor experts Françoise Carré of the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and Chris Tilly of the University of California, Los Angeles — explored the wages and working conditions of retail workers in Germany, Britain and other industrialized nations.

They concluded that for all the power of market forces, from automation taking over routine tasks to globalization squeezing retailers’ margins, there is nothing inevitable about low-quality retail jobs. Social norms and political institutions can make them better, or worse.

In the United States, 42 percent of retail workers earn a low hourly wage — defined as less than two-thirds of the median wage across the economy. In Denmark, only 23 percent of retail workers earn so little; in France, only 18 percent. And labor turnover in the American retail industry is twice as high as it is in Britain and the Netherlands.

European retailers employ part-time workers more often. But full-time workers in the United States sometimes fare no better: Retailers will cut their hours to avoid paying overtime. What’s more, American retailers face few barriers to altering schedules to fit consumer demand, forcing employees to be available at any time even if they work few hours.

What accounts for these differences? The high minimum wage in France — set at 68 percent of the median wage — is a critical tool preventing low pay among retail workers. Cashiers, near the bottom rung on the wage ladder, made more than $2 more per hour at big food retailers in France like Carrefour than at similar American retailers like Walmart.

Unions, of course, play a major role. Fewer than 5 percent of retail workers in the United States are represented by a union. In Denmark, France, the Netherlands and Germany, by contrast, multi-employer union agreements determine wages and working conditions across regions in the entire sector. Notably, retailers in Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands have to negotiate scheduling with unions and often must post schedules weeks in advance.

Other institutions matter. In the United States, part-time retail workers earn two-thirds of the hourly wage of full-timers. In the European Union, they must be paid the same. Premium pay for late-night and weekend shifts in Europe also improve pay. Universal child care — common in countries like France — also affects the labor supply, freeing mothers to seek full-time work. Germany’s apprenticeship system provides retailers with workers who have more skills and can take on a greater variety of tasks.

These things tend to come together. When I asked what change would most improve the lives of retail workers in the United States, Professor Carré said the minimum wage, mandated or subsidized health care and mandated sick days made a big difference. Still, she argued, “you don’t get those things without a strong labor movement.”

This is not to say that retail jobs are great in France or the Netherlands. Indeed, Professors Carré and Tilly find that these jobs are gradually getting worse everywhere, as European retailers seek workarounds to avoid labor regulations. But while wages and working conditions have steadily deteriorated in the United States, the decline in Europe hasn’t been as general.

“New regulatory initiatives, such as high minimum wages, have partially reversed trends toward falling compensation,” the researchers wrote.

And what is critical is that European retailers can afford this: the researchers found that large food stores in France sell about twice as much per hour as American stores. Value added per employee is about 12 percent higher. And French stores sell about three times as much per square foot, not least because of tight zoning regulations that limit their size.

This is not to say that European culture is somehow more labor-friendly. Professors Carré and Tilly observe that when European retailers come to the United States, they tend to adopt American norms.

Europe’s choices do entail costs. Notably, American consumers benefit from the more intense competition among retailers in the United States. In areas with weak zoning regulations, where Walmart can easily enter and undercut other retailers’ prices, this is particularly true. In France, where barriers to entry are high, competition is weaker and retailers are more profitable. They can afford to give workers a better deal.

Still, it is important to understand that this is a choice. There is nothing inevitable about dead-end jobs. As the United States struggles with stagnating wages and widening inequality, giving bottom-end workers a better deal might not be a bad choice — and $13 an hour is one place to start.

Axios: Black Friday Future of Retail Feature Stream

Originally published 11/24/2017

2017 has been retail's year of reckoning. For decades, brick-and-mortar retailers have taken on too much debt, built too many stores, and failed to understand the potential or practicalities of e-commerce. The price of these missteps have been steep: More than 6,000 stores have closed so far in 2017, the most of any year on record, and there are 65,000 fewer retail jobs in America than in January of this year.

On the other side of those stats is Amazon, which is taking an ever-growing slice of a rapidly expanding e-commerce pie, along with its army of third-party sellers. The Amazon revolution is one symptom of the growing dominance of mega tech firms that are changing the way America works and shops.

Metro Philadelphia: Black Friday means extra headaches for low-wage workers

Originally published 11/24/2017

Despite the internet, the infamous post-Thanksgiving consumerist holiday of Black Friday is still one of the biggest revenue days for major stores.

But the low-wage retail employees who staff the nation's biggest box stores aren't seeing any of that pie.

For Madison Nardy, 20, a beauty team worker at Target in South Philly who is scheduled to work from 5:30 pm to midnight on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday, the hours aren't just a toll on her: They detract from her being able to do her job well.

"Of course," Nardy said when asked if she had to work Black Friday. "I'm definitely cranky, I'm definitely exhausted and tired, and it does reflect on my work ability. … Because I'm constantly tired, I'm not motivated to help people or talk to people, even though that's what I love to do."

Nardy is earning $11.50 an hour as a part-time Target employee, while studying theater full-time at the Community College of Philadelphia. After a year and a half, she still mostly works night shifts, she said, which are hard because she has safety concerns taking public transit home at night and often has class early the next morning.

"Target was my first job, so I kind of entered with an open mind," the South Philly born-and-raised resident told Metro. "At first I figured this is just how retail is, you just have to live with it, but as the months went on, I realized nobody should have to live like this, nobody should have to work 'til midnight every night."

Nardy is now working with OnePA, a nonprofit advocating for low-income workers, to raise awareness about the issues retail workers face. Out of some 120,000-130,000 retail workers in Philadelphia, more than 60 percent are women and 25 percent are part-time.

"A number of Philly retail workers have begun to work together to raise awareness and build solidarity around the unfair, insufficient and erratic scheduling they face across the city," OnePA said in a statement. "All year long, low-paid retail workers are subject to irregular and insufficient hours, and Black Friday represents the height of unfair scheduling."

David Delgado, 20, a part-time sales associate for a year at Old Navy in Center City, born and raised in North Philadelphia, earns around $11 an hour, a little above minimum wage. He said seasonal workers hired during the holiday rush get extra hours, instead of more senior employees.

"They'd rather give it to a seasonal worker because they can work them out more and don't have to pay them the same amount of money," he said. "We're like cats and dogs, like we're not even humans. … When it comes to holidays like Black Friday, like Christmas, it gets worse, it's like slavery."

Target's and Old Navy's corporate offices did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.

USA Today: This Holiday Season, Let's Talk About Retail Workers Instead of Coal Miners

Originally published on 11/24/2017 3:15 AM

The people selling and wrapping your gifts are a huge segment of the economy. But very few of these jobs offer a pathway to the middle class.

Far more than the miners or factory workers that President Trump regularly touts, the retail salesperson is the face of today’s economy. Nearly 16 million people work in retail in America, more than 300 times as many as the 52,000 in coal mining. They are the people wrapping gifts, stocking shelves and providing advice on what to buy this holiday season for your friends and family.

Yet the retail industry is also a precarious place to work and has only become more so over the past year. Since last October, retail has lost more than 100,000 jobs, as online retailing and Wall Street turned up the pressure on the industry. Iconic retailers like Toys R’ Us, for example, have buckled from the weight of leveraged debt demanded of them by private equity firms. Brick-and-mortar stores have moved online.

More: GOP tax plan: If we're busting the budget, let's spend on real needs

More: Inequality crisis: Blacks and Latinos on the road to zero wealth

Even as the retail industry changes, though, it will continue to be one of the biggest employers in America. Despite rumors of the “retail apocalypse,” in 2017 more stores opened than closed. And retail still employs more than one in 10 American workers.

We have the chance to help retail workers weather the storm and make these jobs better — the kind of stable, sustainable jobs that families can count on.

Some employers are already making moves in this direction. Walmart, for example, has invested $100 million in job training. In September, Target announced it would raise wages to $15 by 2020.

Yet to gauge if we’re making progress, we need to hear from retail workers themselves. A new Fair Workweek Initiative survey does just that, looking at the experiences of nearly 1,100 retail workers across the industry — from big box stores like Target to clothing retailers like Victoria’s Secret and the Gap.

The survey reveals that very few people employed in retail get what Americans expect for a hard day’s work, let alone a real pathway to the middle class. Only 8% of front-line retail workers, for example, had what could be called a “good job” that paid at least $15 an hour, with full-time hours, health insurance, and paid time off.

Even more alarming was the lack of mobility. One in three workers hadn’t received a raise in the last two years. Only 18% of those who had changed positions moved up to a managerial role. A major reason for the stagnation was employers’ reliance on part-time hours and variable schedules. Nearly half of front-line workers like sales associates and cashiers worked part-time with hours that fluctuated wildly, from as few as 13 hours to as many as 29 from week to week.

And their willingness to work those erratic hours was the key to getting promoted. More than half of those surveyed cited “open availability” as the leading factor in a promotion, far more important than education or a positive performance review.

That demand to work 24/7 means retail workers have to run an obstacle course to get ahead. Nearly half took care of kids and other family members, and one in five had a second job. Given that women are still primary caregivers, it’s no surprise this juggling act perpetuated the gender gap in retail, where women are just a fraction of managers. About 70% of women reported that the stress of their job took a toll on their health, while nearly the same percentage of men reported no health issues at all.

Although employers will tell you that training for new skills lets workers advance, the survey revealed that, as a way to get ahead, workers themselves ranked it about equal to availability. Training works (59% who received it moved to a better position) but just not for enough people.

More: GOP tax 'reform' worse than partisan. It's petty.

POLICING THE USA: A look at race, justice, media

The good news is that we are making gains. A wave of cities and states has raised the minimum wage and guaranteed earned sick time, and most recently, a fair work week. Over the past few years, a movement led by working people has won more predictable, stable hours for people in the service economy, including in Seattle, New York City, and Oregon. And after state attorneys general launched inquiries into the widespread use of on-call scheduling in retail, more than 13 brands stopped the practice.

Now more than ever, people working in retail need a greater voice in the industry. Ensuring more stability for those working in retail can help millions navigate this moment of disruption, but also ensure that the retail job of the future is one that supports a family. This holiday season, let’s push for solutions that make retail an industry where working people prosper.

Carrie Gleason is Director of the Fair Workweek Initiative at the Center for Popular Democracy. Follow her on Twitter: @GleasonCarrie

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @USATOpinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to letters@usatoday.com.

NBC News (Op-Ed - Michelle Chen): Why Black Friday still leaves too many workers with little to be thankful for

Originally published 11/24/2017 4:24 AM

Thanksgiving should mark the start of a festive season, but the millions working this weekend have precious little to celebrate. For many of the working-poor, the big feast isn’t the turkey dinner at home, but the feeding frenzy of the Black Friday sales floor at dawn — a day replete with shopping revelry for consumers but, for workers, one more slog in another workweek without respite from everyday hardship.

This year, however, the holidays might treat some workers slightly more kindly: A 2016 Bloomberg BNA workplace survey found that about 80 percent of workers were granted two paid days off for the Thanksgiving holiday, up from 70 percent the three years prior. It's a tepid improvement, but it could signal that, after decade of boom-bust economic cycles, both our consumption patterns and workplace practices might finally be starting to cool down.

Still, many workers won't have anything close to a leisurely holiday season: Low-wage laborers in stores and restaurants are most likely to be serving you on your day off. In contrast to typical white-collar and manufacturing workers, according to a recent CareerBuilder survey, roughly half of workers in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors are working on Thanksgiving.

Big Box retail’s wide bottom rung — the lowest-paying, least stable retail jobs like cashiers and sales — intersects with other social gaps: Black and Latino workers and women are concentrated in marginal part-time positions, typically with fewer promotional opportunities. And although women workers are driving growth in low-wage retail jobs today, they're uniquely vulnerable on the job, exposed not just to economic insecurity, but also to everyday gender bias and, sometimes, outright abuse.

Activists have, for instance, denounced Walmart over complaints of systemic labor violations going back years, including allegations of discriminatory pay scales for womensexual harassment, and the denial of basic rights like taking time off for pregnancy or childbirthWorkers are punished when they protest.

Workers in large businesses with 1,000 or more employees — like Walmart — are also four times more likely than small businesses to make some workers work on Thanksgiving. But those workers staffing your local Big Box this weekend might not be on duty as part of a regular full-time schedule; they may instead have picked up an extra holiday shift to cover this month’s bills. Often, low-wage employees rely on added peak-season shifts because the rest of the year is filled with low-paying irregular gigs or part-time shifts. This leaves many workers scrambling at year’s end to cobble together enough work hours to make rent, stave off debt and if they’re blessed, have a little extra to splurge on their kids’ gifts.

So if you find yourself queueing in the Walmart parking lot on Friday morning, mind the store associates corralling the teeming mobs; this holiday season might be an especially tough slog for them, since the company recently “streamlined” its store operations by rolling back its extra holiday pay policy.

The megachain has also moved to cut back staff and closing stores nationwide in order to stay “competitive” in a retail market increasingly dominated by online outlets. But labor advocates warn that slashing labor costs might deprive thousands of workers’ a modest year-end boost and force them to stretch already-meager paychecks, or to take on additional shifts — a good deal for Walmart’s low-price empire at the expense of workers’ households.

Sadly, the low-wage, high-stress labor structure has become standard across today’s retail and service workforces. At many businesses, the 40-hour week simply doesn’t exist any more: Staffers work on “on call” hours, or pick up part-time temp jobs with no benefits (not even weekends off). Just one in five low-wage workers get paid vacation time, and just 15 percent of the lowest-paid workers can take paid sick days; so a holiday­ — or just a day to nurse a child at home with the flu — means a day without pay.

About one-sixth of workers are stuck on unstable shift schedules, so their boss controls their work hours and could change workers’ shifts with just a few days notice. The mix of erratic work hours and poverty wages wreaks havoc on working families: Labor researchershave linked schedule volatility to constant income instability, hindering workers from maintaining mortgage payments, saving for college, or covering childcare fees — and forget about stocking stuffers.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has moved to kill an Obama-era rule to raise overtime pay for millions of workers, promising an even rougher holiday season next year.

And, recent structural shifts in the low-wage economy could soon push the poorest workers out of work altogether. Though the low-wage chainstore model has expanded aggressively across the country in recent years, now superstores are consolidating as brick-and-mortar outlets lose market share to digital retailers. The communities where Walmart has taken over the local economy and crowded out mom-and-pop shops over the years might soon lose their main source of jobs as megastores shutter and lay off workers.

Any slight uptick in the rate of workers getting a break this Thanksgiving hardly offsets the day-to-day drudgery of low-wage work. But one ray of hope is that a change in seasonal workplace practices may reflect a political climate shift, spurred by rising grassroots campaigns for fair wages and decent workplaces.

The Fight for $15 campaign for a living wage and union rights has mobilized waves of workers nationwide in fast food restaurants, retail and other precarious sectors. The momentum has spun off into campaigns demanding more comprehensive labor reforms to make work schedules more equitable. Fair workweek legislation has emerged in various communities, starting with San Francisco’s pioneering Retail Bill of Rights, which provides for fairer pay scales and paid sick days, while giving part-time workers priority in hiring for full-time positions and mandating advanced notice of scheduling changes. New York and Seattle are on trend with similar fair workweek policies for service workers.

These changes are good for business, too; Advocates point out that offering staff steady, less punishing schedules and decent wages can curb turnover rates and boost workforce productivity.

Economic forecasters have predicted the “death of retail,” noting the mass closures of megamalls and Big Box chains. But perhaps it's actually only the death of a certain kind of retail; maybe it’s just the implosion of the precarious jobs that feed into a system of dead-end, low-end labor. The retail jobs that will survive might just be those that strike a sustainable balance between quality service and quality jobs.

This is the season of thankless work for many of us, but it’s also a time for resolutions: Worker-led movements are hustling to transform the low-wage economy into an economy that supports families and communities together. That would make the holidays a more generous time for all.

Michelle Chen is a contributing writer at The Nation, a contributing editor at Dissent and a co-producer of the “Belabored” podcast and Asia Pacific Forum on WBAI FM. She tweets at @meeshellchen.

LA Times (Op-Ed - Steve Greenhouse): Black Friday retail workers are treated like yo-yos. They need scheduling protections

Originally published 11/24/2017 3:00 AM

hen you go shopping this holiday season, you’ll no doubt come across smiling cashiers and perky sales clerks. But behind the holiday cheer, many retail workers have very un-merry tales to tell about the craziness of their work schedules.

I’ve heard many tales of woe over the last five years — of unpredictable, ever-changing, stress-inducing work schedules — as I’ve researched labor conditions in retail and elsewhere in the service sector. Whether at big-box stores, department stores or specialty stores, many workers complain that their managers have ramped up the scheduling chaos as retail competition has grown ever fiercer, partly because Amazon is eroding the sales of brick-and-mortar retail.

A man who worked at a Zara in Manhattan when I interviewed him in 2015, Brandon Wagner, sometimes had to work until 11 p.m., getting home around midnight, and then be back at the store at 8 next morning. That meant he’d get just five or six hours of sleep.

Mirella Casares, a Victoria’s Secret worker in Florida, told the New York Times earlier this year that her weekly hours swung wildly, from a low of 15 hours a week to a high of 39, making it hard to plan her life or her budget. Frequent last-minute scheduling changes made it difficult to find care for her 2-year-old and 6-year-old.

An aspiring actor, Desmond Anthony, told me that the Express in Manhattan where he used to work would often schedule him for two days of work, plus two or three on-call days. That meant he had to call his boss first thing in the morning and be ready to rush in if the store needed him. If he wasn’t needed, he went unpaid, even though his on-call status made it impossible for him to schedule auditions or make other plans.

The stories pile up. One Milwaukee worker, Mary Coleman, said she once made the hour-long bus commute to her job at a Popeye’s only to be told that she shouldn’t clock in. Business was slow and they didn’t need her that day, her boss said. (She wasn’t paid.) Another retail worker told me she didn’t learn her work schedule for the next week until Saturday, two days before her workweek began. A Wal-Mart worker in Orlando, Fla., said she was inexplicably assigned zero hours one week, sandwiched between 20-hour and 25-hour weeks.

Much of this herky-jerky scheduling grows out of new money-saving management practices. Thanks to advances in software, many stores and restaurants now monitor their sales minute by minute, hewing to a strict employees-to-sales ratio. When sales jump or dip, a store might suddenly call in unscheduled workers or tell scheduled workers to go home.

Although this helps businesses hold down costs and serve customers better, it creates havoc for many workers. A 2014 study led by Susan Lambert, a professor of organizational theory at the University of Chicago, found that 41% of early-career workers received one week or less advance notice of their work schedule. This unpredictability makes it difficult to schedule child care or doctor’s appointments or to juggle college classes while holding a job.

UCLA researchers recently surveyed 800 retail employees in the L.A. area and found that ever-varying work hours create chaos in many workers’ lives, problems compounded by the city’s size and transportation woes. Some workers complained to the researchers, who are finalizing their study, that they could barely make ends meet because of their part-time hours and because their unpredictable schedules made it difficult to hold a second job.

Just as low wages in the fast-food industry spawned the Fight for 15, the volatility of retail schedules has given birth to the Fair Workweek movement. This fast-growing initiative has persuaded city councils in Emeryville, Calif.; San Francisco; New York and Seattle as well as Oregon’s state Legislature to adopt laws that bring more predictability — and sanity — to scheduling. Fair Workweek may target L.A. next year.

These laws have various wrinkles. They generally apply to retail and restaurant workers and require two weeks’ notice of work schedules. And they usually call for a good-faith estimate of weekly hours upon hiring, and give workers the right to decline to work when there is less than 10 or 11 hours between shifts.

All the laws require predictability pay — often one hour of pay for a scheduling change ordered by the employer, and four hours of pay for canceling shifts with less than 24 hours’ notice. (Such pay is not required if shifts change because of utility failures, severe weather, acts of God or the recommendation of civil authorities.)

Industry lobbyists have vigorously battled these laws, saying they would limit retailers’ flexibility, burden them with new mandates and needlessly raise costs. But the retailers have brought these laws upon themselves. They have made workers’ hours and pay — and lives — swing so wildly that many workers feel like yo-yos.

Fair workweek laws merely restore some much-needed balance and stability, in both hours and income, for the workers who serve us day after day.

Steven Greenhouse, a former labor and workplace reporter for the New York Times, is writing a book about the history and future of labor unions and worker advocacy in the United States.

NPR Marketplace: A tale of two Thanksgivings: one spent at work, one spent with family

Originally published on 11/23/2017 10:00 AM

Arnold Cortez would love to spend Thanksgiving with his family eating his favorite dishes — sweet potatoes and stuffing — as well as the various pies that his wife bakes every year. However, just like the years before, he will be spending the holiday at work, stocking shelves at Walmart throughout the evening of Thanksgiving. The only Thanksgiving meal he will get to enjoy that Thursday evening is the one that the company usually orders from a nearby Golden Corral.

“Every year we have to work Thanksgiving,” said Cortez. He has been working at the Grand Prairie, Texas store for fifteen years and is used to celebrating Thanksgiving on Saturday or Sunday of the Thanksgiving weekend. His wife, Q, also works at the store as a stocker. She has four grown kids and thirteen grandchildren — all of whom attend the weekend celebration held at her ex-husband’s house. “If we didn’t work on Thanksgiving, we would be planning our own Thanksgiving dinner together and invite them over for once.”

For many retail workers, the traditional Thanksgiving dinner has been supplanted by Gray Thursday. In their attempts to attract more shoppers, over the past couple of years a number of stores decided to open their doors as early as 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving - stretching the Black Friday shopping holiday into Thursday. This year, Walmart will be open all day Thursday, with Black Friday deals starting at 6 p.m. Macy’s and Target will also be open on Thursday evening but will close for a few hours during the night before opening their doors again at 6 a.m on Friday.

About 32 million people are planning to do some shopping on Thanksgiving this year, according to a new survey by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Prosper Insights & Analytics.

Despite that, there are some stores that are bucking the trend. REI, the outdoor equipment retailers, is not opening its stores on Thursday or on Black Friday — one of the biggest U.S. shopping holidays. For the third year in a row, REI will give all of its 12,000 full-time and part-time employees a paid day off on Black Friday. The employees are encouraged to spend the day outside with their family and friends.

“One of the sayings you hear around REI all the time is a life outside is a life well lived,” said Alex Jarman, general manager of the REI store in New York. “So being closed the day after Thanksgiving really is a no brainer for us. Spending time with our family on Thanksgiving and then having a chance to do that again and get outside, go hiking, go to a park, or whatever it might be, just seems like a very authentic thing to do for us.”

In addition to closing its stores, REI also closes its online call centers and its website.

“We will take orders online but there's no one there to process them until Saturday,” explained Jarman.

More than 115 million people are planning to shop either in store or online or both on Black Friday this year, according to the NRF. But REI is not too worried about missing out on its share of the sales. Instead, the company hopes to use the holiday as a way to relax before the busy holiday season.

“We can all go out, relax and be really calm before we head into the holiday season that we know is going to be very strenuous and sometimes stressful. It gives us that chance to really catch our breath and get ready for the holidays,” said Jarman.

That’s exactly what Ace Hainley, a sales specialist at REI in West Des Moines, Iowa, plans to do. Hainley, 21, and her dad both work at the same REI and this will be their second year participating in the company’s #OptOutside campaign.

“Last Thanksgiving I actually went bike riding with my dad and we just kind of made a day of it,” said Hainley. “We brought some food along had a picnic in the park, biked along the amazing bike trails that we have here in Des Moines and spent some time with the family.”

They hope to repeat the experience this year. Getting Black Friday off is a welcomed change of pace for Hainley, who years prior worked at a mall coffee shop and had to work on Thanksgiving.

In fact, according to Jarman, having Thanksgiving and Black Friday off is one thing that attracts many potential job seekers to REI.

“Some of our employees actually have sought us out because they heard about opt outside,” he said. “Some of them have worked retail jobs where they actually had started to open on Thanksgiving. So it's really been a great thing for our employees.” 

 

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Among the retail workers who wish they did not have to work on Thanksgiving is Margaret Karch Hooten, who works at a Walmart in California. If she didn’t have to work at Walmart on Thanksgiving, Karch Hooten would be spending it with her friend’s family. But instead of making her “killer” green bean casserole, Karch Hooten expects she will celebrate the holiday in the break room with her coworkers.

“Some of the nice ladies at our store cook Thanksgiving dinner for the employees so we will be having Thanksgiving dinner in our break room,” she said.

While she might be working Thanksgiving this year, that has not always been the case for Karch Hooten. Over the past few years, she spent her Black Friday shifts on strike, protesting outside the store hoping to draw attention to Walmart workers’ wages.

She hopes that with stores offering holiday sales online and in-store days and even weeks before Black Friday rolls around, people will be less drawn to Gray Thursday and Black Friday offers in the future. Yet, despite that, shoppers keep turning up.

“We started our sales at six o'clock last year on Thanksgiving Day and people were there because of the great deal that they put out and advertised,” she said. 

NPR: 'Just Time Together': For Some Workers, A Thanksgiving Off Is A Rare Treat

Originally published on 11/23/2017 5:05 AM

The way Brenda Bracey tells the story, it's just short of a miracle.

"Twenty-three years," she says. "This is the first Thanksgiving in 23 years that I have not worked at least an eight-hour shift."

For almost a quarter-century, Bracey has been working at grocery stores in the town of Largo, on Florida's west coast. She's done all different jobs, she says, her voice bubbly over the phone line.

"Right now I'm in the deli, because I'm at the bottom of the totem pole," she says with a laugh. She recently changed stores — from supermarket chain Winn-Dixie to another called Publix — and has to once again work her way up.

So there she was about a month ago, working at the deli, when somebody said something about Publix being closed on Thanksgiving.

"And I stopped what I was doing," Bracey says. "And I said, 'Wait a minute, we're not open on Thanksgiving?' " She says her coworkers gave her a puzzled look. Then it hit her: "I said, 'Oh my god! I'm off on Thanksgiving!' And they all started laughing and said, 'That's it, we're going to Brenda's house for Thanksgiving.' "

For Bracey and the millions of other Americans who work in retail — about one in ten U.S. workers — the Thanksgiving weekend kicks off the most intense stretch of the year.

"It's like going down the rabbit hole," says Louise Treadway, who works at a jewelry store in a Portland mall. "It's the beginning of a very challenging, and sometimes stressful, and sometimes exciting part of the year. That's the start of the season — not that they aren't already playing Christmas music at the mall!"

For many retailers, Black Friday is the busiest shopping day. In recent years some stores have begun stretching the deals into Thanksgiving and even earlier in the week. The Thanksgiving openings have been somewhat controversial — a September survey by BestBlackFriday.com is the latest to find that a majority of Americans view Thanksgiving store openings negatively.

Hundreds of stores and malls, including the Mall of America, have decided to stay closed on Thanksgiving this year. For some smaller or specialty stores that don't offer door-buster sales, the math doesn't make Thanksgiving openings worth it. But many large retailers like Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Macy's are staying open.

"This is the first time I haven't actually celebrated Thanksgiving on the day itself," says Casey Hammond, who's working part time at an outdoor gear retailer in upstate New York.

Hammond is slated to work from 5 p.m. to midnight on Thursday, followed by another shift Friday morning. He says he appreciates that he gets extra pay for the work and still can celebrate on another day.

"I'm trying to be of that mindset," he says, "but it's still a little bit weird to me."

For grocery stores, Thanksgiving is the day of the big crowds, while Black Friday is for cleanup. So when I ask Bracey how she feels when she thinks about those two days, she lets out a sigh. You have to work faster and longer, she says.

"By the time the holiday gets here, you're just so tired, you don't care — 'we're eating cocoa-puffs,' " she says with a laugh. Thankfully, she gets Black Friday off this year as well.

Bracey's usual Thanksgiving routine has involved preparing dishes early and leaving sticky notes on them for her sons: "I go in the oven at 10:30."

But wouldn't it be nice to ... say that in person?

Bracey says she is grateful to have a job in the first place. "The good parts for me is I was able to support my family," she says. "You know, we're not rich, but it kept a roof over our home and food on the table."

But she's also realizing the cost of those 23 years of working on Thanksgiving: "I don't think I realized the significance of it, and I wish I could get that back. To me it wasn't a fair trade — not just for me but for the time that I had with those kids — for stupid things like going buying the food together. You know, just time together ... that we didn't have."

She pauses, then adds: "But we're going to have it this year." And then: "I'm gonna drive 'em crazy!" And she breaks into a laugh.