Target’s ‘Save Thanksgiving’ petitions: the case for unionizing

Last year Target was at the front lines of a controversial trend that’s seen retail chains opening earlier and earlier for Black Friday and encroaching on workers’ holidays nationwide. After starting the Black Friday extravaganza at 4am in recent years, last year Target joined Walmart, Best Buy and others in opening at midnight for the first time against the wishes of a flurry of petitions that cropped up from employees online, gathering hundreds of thousands of signatures.

This year Black Friday creeps further into Thanksgiving itself as Target and Walmart will both open at 9pm on Thanksgiving night. Again a blizzard of petitions have popped up from employees asking the companies to please allow them to have Thanksgiving with their families. An especially articulate one aimed at Target with over 200,000 signatures argues: “I’m not complaining about being a minimum wage worker. Target, as a company, does some good and maintains a commitment to charity. Thanksgiving, though, is one of the three days retail workers get off a year, a day most spend with family. …Since workers need to show up sometimes hours before the story officially opens, this will take much of Thanksgiving away from retail employees across the country. Target can take the high road and save Thanksgiving for employees like me and our families by saying no to ‘Thanksgiving Creep.'”

Holidays and elections tend to make stories like this headline-worthy. Papa John’s is getting its share of heat right now for insisting it’ll cut employees’ hours rather than raise the price of pizza 3 cents in order to give them healthcare as will be required under Obamacare for employees working over 30 hours a week. But large corporations tend to do this kind of thing all year, whether or not it makes national headlines.

As corporations fight tooth and nail for every dollar of profit in a still-terrible economy, the issue of unionization seems more important than ever. If corporations won’t prioritize taking care of workers, even fighting the federal government in its efforts to foce them to, is it time for workers to start insisting on taking better care of themselves?

When Target workers in Valley Stream, NY voted against unionizing in May, a judge found that Target had engaged in widespread intimidation to keep them from voting for unionization: They “barred employees from wearing union buttons and distributing fliers, had improperly threatened to discipline employees who discussed union matters and had unlawfully threatened to close the store if the workers voted to unionize.” After the judge’s ruling in May, Target did in fact close the store. For “remodeling,” they say. For over six months.

Aside from sketchy donations to anti-gay organizations, Target has a well-worn history of treating its workers like garbage. We’re not exactly a culture of regulations and good corporate governance. If workers don’t take better care of themselves, no one will. The “Save Thanksgiving” petitions are great—you should sign one—but petitions are probably not going to make Target give Thanksgiving back to its employees any more than bad media coverage will force Papa John’s to give its employees healthcare. More than ever, the idea of unionization has a healthy role to play, be it intra-organization or on the big scale of traditional unions. If Target employees want Thanksgiving back, they should think about mobilizing, fast.