For the third year in a row some Wal-Mart workers will be protesting the largest retailer in the world. They are demanding higher pay which would remove them from existing in or near the poverty level. Working at the store is the place they want to be, and besides, Wal-Mart employees can’t afford to shop on Black Friday.
There are misconceptions regarding the term ‘Black Friday.’ Many believe the Friday after Thanksgiving Day derived its name from the practice of slavery. Legend has it that there was a special sale of slaves on that day allowing plantation owner to prepare for winter and the extra work involved. This is a fable.
The truth is less complicated and not very interesting. The term Black Friday was first used in 1951. It referred to the practice of employees calling in sick the day after Thanksgiving, thus giving themselves a four day weekend. Efforts by management to cease the procedure included eliminating holiday pay for Thanksgiving unless employees worked the day before and the day after the holiday.
In the 1960’s it Black Friday was a phrase which began in Philadelphia by the city’s police department. It referred to the extra work they had to perform on the two days following Thanksgiving relating to increased vehicular and pedestrian traffic in the downtown areas as Christmas shopping began.
In the 1980’s retailers used the term to describe the time when they began to make a profit as shopper’s opened their wallets.
The term Black Friday has now morphed into the practice of ‘intense shopping’ to find the best sales items; electronics leading the list.
For Wal-Mart employees and thousands of others including those in the fast-food industry, Black Friday is just another work day.
Several months ago a Wal-Mart executive attending a conference boasted that 475,000 of his company’s employees made $25,000 per year. Wal-Mart has 1.4 million employees in the United States. That means that 925,000 workers are living in poverty.
Walmart is so profitable that financial specialists claim that Wal-Mart could afford to give each of its employees a 50 percent raise, and remain just as profitable. Instead, the retail giant is revamping its health insurance plan. Some employees will be denied, others will see increased premiums, and all will pay a higher deductible.
Many of those picketing will not be Wal-Mart employees; they have to work. A group called ‘OUR Wal-Mart’ has organized the protests. When the first Black Friday protests began in 2012, they were asking for a beginning wage for all employees of $25,000 per year. Now that fast-food employees have been campaigning for $15 and hour, Wal-Mart workers have joined them in their demands.
Wal-Mart spokesmen state that the company stands by its record of creating tens of thousands of jobs each year for individuals who need them. They also claim that the group ‘OUR Wal-Mart’ is not a formation of actual Wal-Mart employees. The company says that it is a group supported by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. The protests occurred at 1,448 Wal-Mart stores last year.
One female Wal-Mart employee who says that she is a member or OUR Wal-Mart claims that she has been harassed by management, and intentionally passed over for promotions because of her affiliation with the organization.
By James Turnage