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“A pretty high energy day” for employees. That’s how a Walmart executive described Thanksgiving after the corporation announced that this year’s “Black Friday” would begin on Thursday evening, leaving many of its workers (known as “associates”) unable to spend the holiday with family or friends.
Walmart’s wages and employment practices can rightfully be described as “Dickensian.” What, we wondered, would the Victorian author make of this latest development?
It was the night before Thanksgiving. Walmart’s top brass had assembled in the executive boardroom for a last celebration before heading home to their families. Amidst the din of laughter and chatter, nobody noticed the thin figure silhouetted in their doorway.
“I am a Walmart Associate,” the figure finally called out, “and I beg your pardon for the intrusion.”
The revelers stared in amazement. “A Happy Thanksgiving to you all!” added the shadowy Associate.
“Happy Thanksgiving? Happy Thanksgiving?!?” came an answering voice from inside the boardroom. “What right have you to be happy? Why would you be be happy? You’re poor.”
The stranger’s request.
“Why are you even here?” the shadowy figure was asked.
“I’ve come to request better wages and working conditions,” came the reply. The shocked silence was finally broken by the Chairman of the Board, one Mr. Rob Walton.
“Are there no food stamps?” Walton asked.
The figure stood silently.
“And housing subsidies for the poor?” he demanded. “Are they still in operation?”
The silhouette nodded its head.
“Medicaid is still in full vigor, then?”
“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop these government programs in their useful course,” said the Chairman. “I’m very glad to hear it.”
“I was hoping you would behave more wisely and kindly this holiday season,” the figure said. “You, sirs and madams, run the largest corporation in the nation, employing more than two million souls. Your behavior shapes the entire labor market, for good or for bad — “
“Then bad it will remain!” said a Board member to enthusiastic nods all around.
“I even said,” he added, “that employees who work on Thanksgiving will get 25 percent off on any single item they purchase.”
“As if our employees could afford anything valuable!”
“You out there!” a voice summoned imperiously. “Associate! Are you going to buy something expensive with your discount? A flat-screen TV, perhaps?”
“Food, sir,” the figure responded. “and barely enough for that.”
“Well, then,” came the answer, “you’ll have to learn to economize.”
“Economize?” the figure said gravely. “Do you believe in ‘family values’?” The assembled executives nodded.
“Then come, good people. Come, and see how your Associates’ families must spend the holiday!”
The ghost of Thanksgiving present.
The boardroom was suddenly shrouded in darkness. The executives and Board members found themselves looking in at a walk-in kitchen and dining area. The biting winds of a Chicago snowstorm slipped through the worn insulation around the apartment’s single window.
“Your mother and daddy will be home later,” a grandmother said to a crying child, “when the late shift ends.”
“I’m worried about their health,” the older woman said to herself. The figure turned to the people in the boardroom.
“Minimum-wage workers experience high levels of stress,” said the Associate, “especially when they’re also the parents of small children.”
An older child, a girl, walked into the room. “Where’s the turkey?” she asked. Her face fell at the sadness in the old woman’s eyes. “No turkey again this year,” she said with a sigh. “Will we at least have enough to eat tonight?”
“I hope so,” said the older woman, “if we’re careful.”