Holiday Shopping ‘Hell’: Workers Prepare for Unruly Customers and Workplace Strikes | Black friday

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Isabella Burrows, 19, started working at PetSmart in Michigan just before the holiday shopping season in 2020. “It was one of the worst things I had to overcome. We didn’t have enough people to cope with these crowds. We had three registers and there were queues in front and in front of the gates to find out how much traffic we were having, ”Burrows said.

This year, Burrows has to work from 3 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. on Black Friday in a store an hour from her house. She was moved from a closer store in May after complaining to human resources that her manager downplayed and dismissed the tragic death of her 12-year-old brother two days after it happened.

Although she has different managers in her new store, she is still afraid to ask management for anything, while still grappling with the trauma of the incident at her previous store, lingering concerns about Covid-19 and preparing for the influx of store traffic and aggressive shoppers during the holiday shopping season.

Holiday shoppers line up for Black Friday deals at the Old Navy store in Times Square on November 28, 2019 in New York City. Photograph: Brendan McDermid / Reuters

“For anything that bothers customers, it touches us just as much. We have no control over the prices in our stores or the quantity we receive of a product, ”said Burrows, who is also a member of the United for Respect advocacy group. “I think it’s something that people sometimes forget: that we are people too.”

Retail sales in November and December are expected to increase between 8.5% and 10.5% – an all-time high – from 2020, according to the National Retail Federation. And this despite lingering supply chain problems, the decision by some retailers, including Walmart and Target, to close on Thanksgiving, and employers’ continuing struggle to find and retain enough workers.

“The week from Thanksgiving and Black Friday through Christmas is the worst time of year to work at Walmart, especially for cashiers and checkout hosts due to the sheer volume of customers flocking to the stores. stores and become unstable and angry about issues not under our control, like the goods they want are out of stock, ”said Peter Naughton, Walmart cashier and self-checkout host in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “We all deserve better and more respect, appreciation, better compensation and understanding that we are not robots but human beings.”

An Amazon employee, who asked to remain anonymous, described Amazon’s peak season, where workers have to work extra shifts to meet increased holiday shopping demand as “hell “.

“The peak is hell,” the worker said. “Sometimes you don’t know your schedule until the night before and when you need HR for something you’re waiting in line on your break. Most HR staff seem to have as high a turnover rate as the rest of the building, so you constantly get misinformation from HR.

A woman works at a packing station at the Amazon fulfillment center in Staten Island on February 5, 2019.
A woman works at a packing station at the Amazon fulfillment center in Staten Island on February 5, 2019. Photograph: Johannes Eisele / AFP / Getty Images

During peak season, their weekly shifts are reduced from three 12-hour night shifts to five 11-hour shifts. Employees lose a 15-minute break from the 12-hour shift being reduced to 11 a.m., the worker noted.

“They’re really monitoring the holidays and supervisors are walking around telling people what their rate is and telling them they need to be faster and work harder,” the worker said. “Report an injury, and there will be plenty of it during the peak, to AmCare [Amazon’s on-site health centers] Usually not worth it as your manager needs to be with you and you are questioned by security, AmCare and management and the actual treatment is usually Tylenol, an ice pack or heat bag, maybe some stretching and back to work . “

Several worker protests in the US and abroad are slated for Black Friday this year as part of a Make Amazon Pay campaign to push Amazon to pay workers fairly, pay their taxes and pay for the impacts environmental aspects of their supply chains.

Holiday travel is also expected to increase this year, with the AAA forecasting a 13% increase in Thanksgiving holiday travel from last year, almost regaining pre-pandemic levels, and an expected 80% rebound. air travel. Deloitte predicts that vacation travel spending will be comparable to pre-pandemic levels.

For low-wage, essential workers in the retail and travel industries, rising demand during the holidays provides an opportunity to push employers to increase wages, benefits and improve working conditions after. what these workers sacrificed throughout the pandemic.

Across the United States, airport workers have staged strikes and protests to demand wage increases, better working conditions, and benefits in Tampa, Florida; Orlando Florida; Houston; Denver; and Phoenix.

Amazon workers protest in Santa Monica, Calif., On May 24.
Amazon workers protest in Santa Monica, Calif., On May 24. Photograph: Frederic J Brown / AFP / Getty Images

On November 18, contract workers at Orlando International Airport staged a one-day strike for better wages as many workers are paid less than minimum wage, forced to rely on tips than they do. often not receive it, while working severely understaffed.

Door attendant and wheelchair attendant Joseph Gourgue Sr, 61, earns just $ 9 an hour with no benefits or paid time off, working at one of the busiest airports in the United States. He went through the pandemic, even catching Covid-19 earlier this year, and went without pay during quarantine.

“They don’t pay us enough,” said Gourgue, who described his job as social work in addition to customer service for travelers. “Thousands and thousands of children come here with their parents to go to Disney World. I am a grandfather. I would love to bring my grandchildren to Disney World, but due to the lack of pay and unpaid time off this cannot happen. I can’t even take time off in November or December.

Houston airport workers protested on Nov. 17 to demand a pay rise.

Teresa McClatchie, an airport escalator security guard for six years, worked during the pandemic earning just $ 9 an hour before her pay was recently increased to $ 12 an hour.

She does not receive any affordable health care benefits and has continued to work despite the pain and swelling from a neck injury she suffered from a car accident.

“On July 15, I was operated on. The following Monday I had to work. If I didn’t come to work I would be fired, ”McClatchie said. “Making ends meet with the salary is always a challenge because to get an apartment you have to earn at least two or three times the rent and you can’t do it with what we earn, so we have to do two or three. or four jobs to make it happen.

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