A few lawmakers are trying to stand against the tide. Here in Connecticut, a group of House Democrats want to force big retailers who open on Thanksgiving to pay workers overtime wages as a way of discouraging them from opening at all. The bill was raised and scuttled last year, and I’m doubtful it’ll make much headway in the upcoming session.
Still, all of this comes during a time when things are finally looking up a little bit for the working poor — at least a little bit. The Affordable Care Act has allowed many who simply couldn’t afford it before to get health insurance — a benefit about which large retailers are notoriously stingy.
Workers at Walmart are
http://time.com/3608379/labor-group-strike-our-walmart-stores-shopping-black-friday/”>targeting Black Friday itself for strike actions, though just how much of an impact these have isn’t clear. They’ve happened before. But, by and large, they’ve only been a blip on the public radar. However, if the strikes get big and disruptive enough, that could quickly change.
There are a couple of things the state and the public can do to give low-wage workers and the working poor their support. First, the legislature should consider and then pass the bill requiring retailers to pay workers a bit more for working on a day that’s supposed to be set aside for family. But the bill’s focus shouldn’t only be on retail stores, but on fast food restaurants, grocery stores, and other businesses that remain open. Two-and-a-half times the normal wage may be overkill, but businesses ought to somehow recognize the sacrifice a lot of workers make to keep the shops open on Thanksgiving. They’ll likely find that they have no shortage of volunteers who want to make extra money. Many stores already do this.
Secondly, the state needs to continue to develop better infrastructure to support the needs of the working poor. CTFastrak, the new busway scheduled to open soon, will help cut bus travel times from poorer neighborhoods to suburban store locations such as West Farms Mall, for example. Better public transportation, more affordable housing, and more accessible education opportunities will make a big difference.
If people want retail workers to make better wages and live better lives, then we also need to support things like minimum wage hikes, affordable housing, and better public transportation. We need to be willing to accept a rise in prices as part of the cost of lifting others out of poverty — low wages and low prices go hand in hand.
Lastly, if people are really tired of Black Friday creeping into the previous day, then for goodness’ sake, stay home on turkey day instead of hitting the Walmart.
Thanksgiving should be a time when everyone can be at home with their families. It’s rare that we take that time, and we all need it. But workers’ rights aren’t only for one day, and we should keep that in mind as we head into the busiest shopping time of the year.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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