Philly Weekly: Black Friday blues: Philly retail workers speak out against inconsistent hours

Originally published 11/22/2017

For most of the year, David Delgado doesn’t get steady hours as a sales associate at Old Navy near Rittenhouse Square. The 20-year-old North Philly resident has to hold down another job as a temp security guard to scrape by, and overall, when he requests to be given at least 32 hours a week, his experience has been negative.

“They’ll badmouth you, they’ll ignore you, and when they do actually feel like giving you the hours, they’ll give you hell [for it],” Delgado says.

But come Thanksgiving Day, it’s expected that all hands are on deck. Old Navy is among a dozen or so retailers opening their doors in the mid- to late-afternoon to prepare for the Black Friday rush.

Some retail workers see incentives for working on days like Thanksgiving, like time and half pay. But despite being part of the holiday weekend, companies like Old Navy don’t consider Black Friday a holiday, Delgado says, and the hours are “crazy.” (A call to the apparel company went unreturned by press time.)

According to a report by the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute, about 17 percent of the nation’s labor force works under the strain of inconsistent scheduling, week in and week out. And the holiday season spells an even more stressful workload for part-time corporate employees like Delgado.

While local data for Philadelphia were not available, retail workers’ stories of this holiday time madness and exploitative labor practices are a dime a dozen. Wal-Mart, the single largest employer in Pennsylvania, has one of the least sterling reputations in this department. But employees interviewed by PW say that the fluctuating hours and unsteady paychecks are the biggest problem.

On Thanksgiving week, Delgado says he’ll get his 32 hours – at the expense of spending time with his family – but the week after that? He doesn’t know. This is his second season with the company, and he’s not optimistic.

Seasonal workers, which large retailers bring on in droves to help ease the holiday workload, make scheduling all the more unpredictable.

Madison Nardy, a full-time student at the Community College of Philadelphia who supports her disabled mother, works part-time at Target. The South Philadelphia native says the Mifflin Street branch near the waterfront has hired 50 new seasonal workers since September. Now, she says that she will have to fight for her guaranteed 20 hours per week.

“It’s ridiculous,” Nardy said. “They should give the current employees the hours we need before they hire seasonal.”

Nardy acknowledges that Target is one of the more well-reputed retailers. But there’s still work to be done to improve conditions.

Earlier this month, the Minneapolis-based big box store announced that it would close its doors for six hours on Black Friday.  In previous years, it has followed the sad all-nighter tradition between Thanksgiving and Black Friday. (Target has also topped numerous lists as the highest paying retailer in the country. The corporation recently agreed to implement a $15 minimum wage by 2020. But Nardy worries that the wage increase will bring more cuts in each employee’s hours.)

But Nardy says it’s still a grind. Some Target workers in Philly will finish a shift at midnight on Thanksgiving, commute home, and then return for the opening shift in a few hours. Like many companies, Target is also extending its daily hours until midnight through the end of December.

Nationwide, some 75 popular retail stores will be closed on Thanksgiving. A number of these stores — Best Buy, Cabela's, JCPenney, Target and Wal-Mart — will be open for at least part of the day.

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A PHILLY ETYMOLOGY

The phrase “Black Friday,” originally used to describe a late-19th century gold market crash, was reappropriated by Philadelphia newspapers a century later to refer to the post-Thanksgiving retail rush. As early as 1959, according to archived news reports, Philly police officers began using the two-word phrase to describe the horrible traffic conditions around the once-booming retail outlets in Center City.

HOLIDAY HOURS?

Home Depot: Closed on Thanksgiving day; opens at 6 a.m. on Black Friday.

Lowe’s: Closed Thanksgiving day; opens at 6 a.m. on Black Friday.

Walmart: Opens 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, and stays open through Black Friday.

Target: Opens 6 p.m. to midnight on Thanksgiving; reopens at 6:00 a.m. on Black Friday.

Best Buy: Opens at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving to 1 a.m. on Black Friday; reopens at 8:00 a.m.

Macy’s: Opens at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving to 2 a.m. on Black Friday, then reopens at 6:00 a.m.

GameStop: Opens at 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving and stays open through Black Friday.

(Times are approximate and may vary by branch location. Source: Corporate websites.