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Black Friday Working Conditions

November 24th, 2011

“Black Friday” and the Christmas season it ushers in seems to come earlier every year. This year’s particularly disturbing trend is that some retailers are opening at midnight. And some retailers I’ve heard are even starting the shenanigans at 9pm tonight or even earlier.

With the possible exception of some seasonal hires, none of the rank-and-file employees at these stores knew, or could have reasonably anticipated that they would be askeddemanded to work these ridiculous hours — probably under threat of termination and most likely at their regular wages. Additionally, I’d wager that almost none of these employees are really OK with this arrangement, that is, they are essentially “agreeing” to these conditions under duress.

This phenomena is not an isolated incident

It’s just the natural offshoot of a sick corporate profit-only culture that always prioritizes the bottom line over its employees’ sanity and well-being, whether you are a cashier at K-mart or a cube-jockey somewhere in corporate America or anywhere in between.

It is particularly odious for part time or non-professional workers

These workers often seek secondary employment out of economic necessity, but it would seem their employers go out of their way to make it difficult or impossible to do so.

When I was younger and working various part-time jobs (bars, restaurants, etc.) typically you could expect a working schedule that was at best unpredictable: posted no more than a few days in advance, and not uncommon to have only 24 hours’ notice that you were expected to be at work tomorrow night. Due to this unpredictability, it is difficult to maintain a job at another company because eventually your schedules are going to conflict, and you’ll be forced to choose which job you want to be fired from.

Black riday StampedeFurther, most of these jobs also had some variations on non-compete policies. It’s one thing to say that the CEO of Sears should probably not also work for Wal-Mart due to conflicts of interest, but it’s retarded to say that the $7/hr stock boy at same should be barred from seeking supplemental income/employment from a “competitor” if/when he is unable to obtain adequate hours/income at one or the other. Although this clause is rarely enforced, this agreement means that even without an actual conflict, they can fire you for having the audacity to try and earn more money somewhere else — even though they’re unwilling to offer you an opportunity, wages, or hours to do so!

This is what your actual employment agreement consists of:

In order to remain an employee in good standing, you the employee will need to be available at the employer’s unpredictable beck and call, on practically no advance notice. And even though the employer will not offer or guarantee you a sufficient living wage or enough hours to meet your financial needs, employer intentionally (or ignorantly) makes it difficult/impossible for you to maintain another job to make up for this one’s shortcomings.

This sort of working arrangement is NOT POSSIBLE in a free market

It is only possible in a market perverted. Human needs and wants are practically boundless, and to satisfy these desires requires labor. In a freed market, there would be a directionaly similar demand for labor — NOT a race to the bottom which can only exist when opportunities are stifled and the complimentary factors of production are monopolized.



  • Bret says on: November 27, 2011 at 9:15 pm


    “This sort of working arrangement is NOT POSSIBLE in a free market”

    I don’t get it. That’s not say I don’t grok the point you’re trying to make, but I’m not sure how you draw this conclusion. If “human needs and wants are practically boundless” then it stands to reason that plenty of employees would actually prefer to work the late shift (I’d include myself in this category) either because it fits their natural sleep schedule better or out of a sense of adventure. Furthermore, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these retailers compensated their employees extra for working these hours. All-in-all I’d be surprised if any employees we’re forced into this arrangement. My brief experience at a retailer bears this out, albeit anecdotally. None of the other issues you bring up strike me as a big market failure, either. In fact, most of coworkers held other jobs, were never threatened with termination even with poor job performance, and certainly would never have been held to any do-not-compete clause.

    You argument speaking to the unfree nature of current labor conditions has mostly been spot on. Your comments about salary have especially resonated with me (someone who now does high-level engineering on a strictly hourly basis), but I think you miss the mark here.

    • David Zemens says on: November 28, 2011 at 1:07 pm


      +1 for use of the verb “grok”.

      Someone else mentioned your point, I think I am guilty of hyperbole when stressing that it is “NOT POSSIBLE”. I should probably revise that to say something more along the lines of: what passes currently as the product of “the free market” is not really the product of a free market (more detail on that topic here), and given an actual free market, I would expect other outcomes. Some things like wage labor which dominate now, might still exist, but IMO they would not be nearly as prevalent.

    • David Zemens says on: November 28, 2011 at 1:13 pm


      Also, to clarify, this is not about the late shift per se, there’s nothing wrong with that whatsoever.

      it’s about reasonable/unreasonable expectations, and that in these arrangments it is the business owner/capitalist who hanearly all of the leverage, and can change the terms of the “agreement” at any time, unilaterally. I’m hypothesizing that most people who took a retail job probably expected to have thanksgiving evening off. Almost all business shuts down from mid-afternoon through the following morning. I am sure some businesses did compensate their employees extra. But I am equally sure that other businesses strong-armed their employees in to working a non-traditional shift on a day that they would’ve otherwise been closed. I do know at least one person who was held to non-compete agreements for $5.15/hour when we were kids. :)

      NB this isn’t so much about Thanksgiving in particular, I just used this as a current example to try and discuss some phenomena.

no third solution

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