New Jersey mall workers petition stores to opt out of ‘Black Friday’

 A cashier checks out a shopper buying several iPads on Thanksgiving last year at a Target store in Colorado. Efforts by employees of the Deptford Mall to keep the South Jersey mall closed on Thanksgiving have not succeeded. (AP file photo)

A cashier checks out a shopper buying several iPads on Thanksgiving last year at a Target store in Colorado. Efforts by employees of the Deptford Mall to keep the South Jersey mall closed on Thanksgiving have not succeeded. (AP file photo)

Black Friday, the unofficial launch of the holiday shopping season, is coming early this year. At some stores, it’s already here. To jump-start sales and get a head start on Black Friday, many big-box open their stores on Thanksgiving Day.

 

But not everyone is planning to jump in the car after finishing their turkey and pumpkin pie to pound on shopping mall doors. Even if good deals are, well — in store.

In October, an employee at the Deptford Mall in Gloucester County, New Jersey, created a petition on Change.org. Laura Smith, who identifies herself as a mall worker based in Sickerville, writes that she and other mall employees deserve Thanksgiving Day off. (She was not immediately available for comment.)

Nearly 2,800 people around the country — from New Jersey to Texas to Arizona — have signed the Change.org petition. They demand that Jim Mackey, the mall’s senior property manager, close the South Jersey mall on Thanksgiving Day.

Why? They say Thanksgiving is about family. And for people who work retail, the chance to spend time with family matters.

“We would like to enjoy the same benefits non-retailers get,” the petition reads.

The South Jersey petition joins a rising trend of retailer workers across the country protesting Black Friday with petitions and protests against the “Black Friday creep.”

Since 2012, online petitions from employees at big-box retailers have demanded stores stay closed on Thanksgiving Day. A 2012 Change.org petition with more than 200,000 signatures asked the CEO of Target to “give Thanksgiving back to families” when the chain announced it would open its doors on Turkey Day for the first time.

In the years since, other petitions have asked the same of Sears, Kohl’s, Wal-Mart, and other retailers.

Black Friday job actions

For the fourth year, Wal-Mart employees and activists will strike and protest on Black Friday, demanding better pay. The activist group “OUR Wal-Mart” (the Organization United for Respect at Wal-Mart) will stage a nationwide walkout at chain’s 5,100 stores to rally for a $15 hourly minimum wage and the option for full-time work for Wal-Mart employees.

The United Food and Commercial Workers is also organizing a “Black Friday Week of Action” that includes food drives and a television ad campaign.

Some activism, protests, and petitions have been successful. But the Deptford Mall petition didn’t work. On Thanksgiving Day, the mall will open at 6 p.m. and close at midnight. It will reopen at 6 a.m. Friday and close at 10 p.m., with “select retailers” remaining open throughout the night.

In a statement, Lori Belsito, the mall’s marketing manager, said it’s the second year that the mall has been open on Thanksgiving. Black Friday brings in more than 75,000 shoppers to the mall, she said.

“For the past couple of years, the concept of Black Friday has been evolving. It’s really not limited to just one day – now, it’s more of a mindset,” she said.

“Retailers know what their shoppers want, and some shoppers want the option for an early start to the Black Friday experience,” she said. “We think our retailers are the experts when it comes to understanding their customers, and we are happy to support them whenever they choose to open.”

“Our operating hours are a factor of decisions made by our department stores,” Belsito continued. The mall’s anchor stores — Macy’s, Sears, Boscov’s, and J.C. Penney — will be open on Thanksgiving Day. Other big-box retailers are following suit. In the Deptford Mall, Toys ‘R Us will open at 5 p.m., Wal-Mart and Target will open at 6 p.m.

136 million shoppers — and one chain ‘opts outside’

For many stores, Black Friday is the biggest sales day of the year. According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, an estimated 135.8 million people plan to shop or look for deals on Black Friday.

This year, one company is making a statement. REI, the outdoor gear and apparel chain, has chosen to give its employees Thursday and Friday off. REI employs 12,000 people nationwide, and its new campaign is called “Opt Outside.”

It’s a positive step toward what the company stands for, said Nick Ruscetta, manager of the REI outlet store in Marlton.

“We feel it’s important that we get our employees outside, and give them that extra time to enjoy the outdoors and spend time with family,” he said. “It’s not always about making those dollars on that day — but doing what’s right and what’s right for the people that work for you.”

Even though the company’s stores have never been open on Thanksgiving Day, Ruscetta said, the decision to remain closed on Black Friday is a “big deal … going against the norm and doing what’s right.”

Now that REI employees have more time to spend with their families and friends over the holiday, he said, morale in his store is very high.

“It’s just a great way for us to take that moment to enjoy life, and enjoy the outdoors,” Ruscetta said. “Don’t get caught up in the craziness of the holidays.”

Besides, if shoppers can’t make it out to the mall for those Black Friday deals, they can spend the weekend eating leftovers and looking forward to Cyber Monday. On the Internet, shopping is 24/7.

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