A group of Democrats in the House will try again in the coming months to pass a labor-backed bill designed to discourage retailers from opening stores on Thanksgiving by requiring them to pay their workers holiday overtime.
The bill would require any retailer that opened for business on Thanksgiving to pay their employees at two-and-a-half times their normal rate.
“It’s a day that’s special for Americans to take a day of thanks, of rest, to spend with their families, and for more and more Americans that is no longer possible,” Rep. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, said at a Monday morning press conference in Hartford.
Lesser said more than 2,800 people signed a petition “asking for the legislature to say ‘No.’ To say to retailers that they should at least pay overtime to workers who are forced to work on Thanksgiving.” He said the rate of two-and-a-half times normal pay “seemed reasonable.”
Lawmakers held a similar press conference around Thanksgiving last year. Although they raised the bill during this year’s legislative session, it did not pass. House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz said he believes it will be more successful during next year’s session.
“I think this is a consistent statement by the General Assembly and the House Democrat leadership that we stand with workers and we stand with families for fairness,” he said.
Aresimowicz said he had not yet discussed the bill with House Speaker Brendan Sharkey. In a statement, Sharkey said he was willing to explore the concept.
“Working families deserve to be able to share Thanksgiving and Christmas together. We should look into this idea, particularly as it relates to what other states around us have already done regarding holidays,” he said.
Connecticut AFL-CIO head Lori Pelletier said retail stores would not be opening on Thanksgiving if it was not profitable. She said they should share those profits with workers who are giving up holiday time with their families.
“My plea to these workers would be ‘You should join a union,’ But when the odds are that you can’t do that because of the laws pushing back on you, then the legislature — the government — has a responsibility to make sure that these workers, who are giving up family time, that they have the right to earn just a little bit more money,” she said.
Retailers consider the proposal to be an unwarranted and business-hostile effort to punish an industry where most workers are not unionized.
“Organized labor wasn’t standing up saying the grocery stores shouldn’t be open on Thanksgiving, because they’re organized,” Tim Phelan, president of the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association, said in a phone interview.
Phelan said retailers who open on Thanksgiving do so in response to a demand from consumers.
“You can go to a movie on Thanksgiving or you can go to a restaurant. Why is that okay, but if somebody wants to go shopping, the retailer is going to be penalized for it?” he asked.
During the press conference, legislators and labor officials focused on big box retailers like KMart and Walmart and other corporations, which they labelled as “Bad Turkeys.” Meanwhile, they praised other retailers like Costco, TJ Maxx, Home Depot, and Lowes ,who they said are already “doing the right thing.”
“These corporations are going to make money. What we’re asking them to do essentially by paying the higher rate is share some of that good fortune . . . with the very workers who allowed them to make it,” Aresimowicz said.
Lesser said the trend of opening stores on Thanksgiving has also impacted family owned businesses, who have lost business to larger stores that stay open.