For labor groups, Black Friday and Thanksgiving — when many stores start their sales — have become a target of protest. It is a striking example, organizers say, of how retailers disrupt a beloved family holiday for profit.
–From “Black Friday Retail Workers Try to Make the Most of a Shopping Slump” published in the New York Times.
I’m coming out of the closet. The retail closet, that is. Yes, that’s where I’ve been working for the last year since moving back to my hometown. Though I have a sporadic (and unreliable) adjunct teaching gig on the side, retail has been my main source of employment. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s all I could find (see my previous “life of a serf” post).
After flipping through the news on my lunch break and coming upon this article about Black Friday, I thought I’d share my experience. While I don’t get paid the average of $9.64/hour that the article quoted for American Apparel workers, I don’t get much more. We were given Thanksgiving Day off at my store (unpaid, thank you very much), but I have to work every day surrounding Thanksgiving, including today.
You might think I get paid time and a half or perhaps even double-time for working weekends or holidays.
But at a time when high unemployment makes workers replaceable, I’ve become a statistic: someone whose low-wage, retail, underemployment nightmare is media fodder, a thing to make gainfully-employed people shudder and think, “Thank God it’s not me.” And just admit it: you’re curious how much (or rather little) I make at my retail job.
Here’s the straight dope: I get paid $12/hour with no commission, bonuses, benefits, scheduled raises, a parking spot, or a bus pass. Everyone at our store, including me, is kept part-time, a complaint you hear often from Walmart workers. That’s not to say that we–or many Walmart workers–wouldn’t work full-time. We’re just not given the opportunity to. But let’s get to the math:
$12/hour x 28 hours/ week = $336/week
$336/week x 12 months = $16,128/year
There it is. Try paying for rent, food, health insurance, gas, and parking (it’s expensive downtown–to the tune of $8/day. The bus, which doesn’t run regularly, is $4/round-trip) on a $1,344 gross monthly income. It’s tough, let me tell you. While I’d like to start a family in the near future, I have no idea how I could afford daycare–or even diapers.
As you do your Black Friday shopping (or shopping in general), please keep the plight of the retail employee in mind. She might be an intelligent, educated, and otherwise valuable member of society, who just found herself in a crappy job.