Give workers a break on Thanksgiving

Give workers a break on Thanksgiving

Story By: Steve Levy

Years ago, just about everything other than gas stations and bakeries were closed on Thanksgiving. This allowed for this purely American holiday to be one of the few days when all Americans celebrated together with some type of family gathering. 

But a couple of years ago, a crack in the door was opened when some of the big-box retailers sought to get a leg up on the competition by opening for just a few hours on Thanksgiving. These conglomerates quickly realized that the small mom and pop stores on Main Street, which wouldn’t open their doors until Black Friday, just couldn’t compete.

While the CEOs stayed home with their families, their laborers, earning minimum wage or slightly above, were forced to work and forfeit possibly the one day they might have together with the whole family.  It’s not enough to say that they were given bonuses to work that day. While this might have started off as a purely voluntary venture, it has now become mandatory for many of these low-end workers who usually have no union to protect them.  

Now the big-box stores are taking it to the next extreme, opening in the early morning hours of Thanksgiving, just as they had traditionally done on Black Friday. So, not only are these workers losing their holiday, the stores on Main Street get further pummeled by the behemoths.

That’s why I introduced legislation over 15 years ago as a legislator to prevent most of these stores from forcing workers to work on this holiday. Unfortunately, every time I submitted the bill, it would be tabled. Many stated it was simply a matter of choice for the worker. But what is the choice? Stay away from your family or get fired?  

I remember my father, the owner of an appliance and furniture store, having Sundays off because of the blue laws. The world has changed significantly, and it is illogical to think that we’d ever go back to the blue law days—neither would we want to. But isn’t there just one day of the year where we can say, “let’s give it a rest?”  

I am not a government intrusion kind of guy. I didn’t like Mayor Bloomberg telling me how big my soda could be, or that I can’t have salt at my local restaurant. However, we still have a chance to make sure that what makes Thanksgiving special—time with our families—remains special. It’s time to level the playing field by prohibiting big-box stores from putting our local mom and pops at a competitive disadvantage and spoiling what was once a unifying national experience.

The author of this opinion piece is president of Common Sense Strategies, a political and business consulting firm. He has served as Suffolk County Executive  (2004-2011), and as a representative in the NYS Assembly and was Suffolk County’s 8th District Legislator.