Retail workers ring in this year’s Black Friday

By Lauren Leazenby, Staff Reporter

Black Friday marks the start of the holiday shopping season, but it also marks a time of high stress for retail workers, many of whom are students. Behind the deals, discounts and crowds are the stressors of understaffed stores and extended hours.

Michael Witek, senior radio production major, recently quit his job at Target so he wouldn’t have to deal with the holiday rush.

“I’ve been Black Friday shopping, and I feel horrible for all the workers now,” he said. “I was like, ‘I can’t do that. My anxiety is going to be through the roof.’”

Witek said he felt overworked well before the holiday season had even begun. The high turnover rate left his Target location short-staffed, he said, which led his management to pressure him to stay on after he announced he wanted to leave. The management team also had a tendency to overwork the good employees, who then choose to leave, Witek said.

“Target’s not trying to kill me, but it did stress me out quite a bit,” he said.

Some labor organizations, including Unite for Respect, a biracial national nonprofit organization fighting for fair, safe, and bold legislative and corporate policies that improve the lives of people who work in retail, are using Black Friday to call attention to the unfair treatment of workers at large retail chains.

“Recent layoffs at Toys ‘R’ Us, Sears, Payless, and other chains have decimated the industry and often left workers adrift, without severance to help them through the hard times,” according to a Nov. 27 article in American Prospect, a self-described independent voice for liberal thought. “Meanwhile, retail workers continue to face low pay, haphazard schedules, and workplace intimidation.”

This year’s “HoliDeals” are Target’s largest Black Friday and holiday sales promotion yet, according to a Nov. 6 press release. Target announced in September that it planned to hire more than 130,000 seasonal workers for the holiday season with 120,000 of those workers being in stores. Target stores nationwide offer a minimum starting wage of $13 an hour.

Target, along with Amazon and Walmart, has the deals Black Friday shoppers are most excited for this year, said Kristin McGrath, editor of BlackFriday.com

Despite Target’s claim, McGrath said holiday deals across the board are not much different than they were last year.

“[Companies] are not reinventing the wheel on Black Friday,” she said. “They know what works.”

However, Black Friday shopping has changed over the years. Nearly 60% of consumers will be making their purchases online this year, according to an August survey from BlackFriday.com. McGrath said most of the deals shoppers can get in stores are also available online. Of its more than 130,000 seasonal hires at Target, 8,000 will be working at distribution centers to help process online orders, according to a Sept. 10 press release.

Nevertheless, the stores will be packed, said Samantha Juarez, an Elgin Community College student who works at Vans, a shoe store in the Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg. Juarez worked Black Friday last year and said the holiday chaos makes the days go by faster, and customers usually remain patient despite the rush.

Juarez said she is a bit nervous, but mostly optimistic going into another Black Friday. She said her store has been practicing for the big day throughout the busy weekends leading up to the holiday.

Of the 40% of shoppers who are still planning to hit the stores this holiday, some will be heading out fairly late Thanksgiving night.

Senior journalism major and former Chronicle staff member Tessa Brubaker is scheduled to work at Victoria’s Secret from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. the day of Thanksgiving and 2 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Black Friday.

Brubaker said she is more excited than nervous for her first Black Friday experience while working in retail, although sales expectations and goals are higher during the holidays. There is also an increase in pay, which Brubaker said is a nice benefit.

“When I was looking at my schedule and I saw I was working like all night, I’m thinking, ‘Why would anyone want to go out shopping at that time?’” she said. “I think that is an interesting question [for] consumers in America.”

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