Target employee protests ultra-early Black Friday store openings

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ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Early morning shoppers look for Black Friday bargains at Target store in Burbank, California on November 27, 2009.

So much for Casey St. Clair's plan to spend Thanksgiving with her boyfriend’s family, dining on turkey and pie. Instead, she’ll roll into work at the Norco Target around 9 p.m. on Thursday, helping customers buy discounted TVs.

“It’s ridiculous,” said St. Clair, a part-time sales associate in Target’s electronics department. “I think Target is crossing the line.”

Target is opening three hours earlier this year than last for Black Friday sales. It's following a trend of other retailers that pushing their store openings into Thanksgiving Day - or, in this case, night. That trend angers retail employees, who have launched protests and online petitions against the new hours.

St. Clair has a petition on Change.org called “Target: Take the high road and save Thanksgiving” and it's logged more than 350,000 signatures. Walmart employees are participating in protests. Walmart opens at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

Black Friday is a crucial time for retailers, who are eager to get shoppers into their stores for the holiday shopping season—the nation’s largest retail sales event.

Retail sales have been weak in recent years so the pressure is on retailers to get the cash registers jingling early, said Britt Beemer, CEO of America’s Research Group.

“They are going to leverage everything they can to get consumers through the front door,” Beemer said. “If that means making their employees have to eat Thanksgiving day at 1 or 2 o’clock so they have to be at work at 6, that’s going to be the byproduct of that.”

Target said its customers wanted the stores to hold Black Friday sales in the evening. Many customers “prefer to shop following their family gatherings rather than in the very early hours of the morning,” Target said in a statement on its website.

 Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder said only one-third of Target employees will have to work on Thanksgiving. At some stores, more employees have volunteered to work on Thanksgiving than there were shifts available, Snyder added.

Steven Restivo, Walmart’s senior director of community affairs, said only a handful of employees are participating in the protests.

“Most of the attendees of these events aren’t even Walmart workers,” Restivo said in an e-mail. “The super majority of our 1.3 million associates is excited about Black Friday and is ready to serve our customers.”

At least one major retailer is not following the trend of earlier Black Friday hours. J.C. Penney Co. said it’s pushing its store openings two hours later to 6 a.m. Friday and won’t be offering any door busters this year.

But Target employee St. Clair said she doesn’t think it’s right for any retailer to open on Thanksgiving. She added that she didn’t volunteer to work that day.

“Up until now, Thanksgiving was considered a day when only the most essential services had to be opened,” St. Clair said. “I don’t see retail as one of those essential services.”

St. Clair, 24, said she’s seen the Black Friday hours creep earlier and earlier during the nearly six years she’s worked for Target. In her first year, the store opened at 5 a.m. on Black Friday.

Employees who work on Thanksgiving won’t go home empty-handed -they'll receive holiday pay. St. Clair said she’ll earn more than $20 an hour, compared to what she usually earns—a little less than $12 an hour.

She said the differential it isn’t worth it.

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