Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Brush with Inequality: Why People Really Hate Working on Thanksgiving

When Costco executive Paul Latham was asked why the company is keeping its stores closed on Thanksgiving, his answer to The Huffington Post was clear and simple: "Our employees work especially hard during the holiday season, and we simply believe that they deserve the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with their families."

But while closing stores is the right decision, his reason misses the mark. Let's be honest: is being away from family really why people hate working on Thanksgiving? As much as we all look forward to commenting on the size of the bird and praising how wonderfully moist it is this year (what's your secret?), the truth is that the meal and ensuing ennui are less important than what they symbolize: everyone, young and old, rich and poor, sitting together at the same table.

That meaning is turned upside down when people have to work on the holiday and face today's harsh reality: we don't all get a seat at the table. As much as we tell ourselves that America's the land of opportunity and the place where dreams are made, the truth is that some of us will always have to work on Thanksgiving.

When I began my career as a young journalist, I often had to work nights, weekends, and public holidays, and for good reason: it was a daily newspaper. But working those days always made me reflect on where I was and where I would be in the future. I was thankful that I had a job, a place to live, and food to eat. But I was frustrated that I had to work when so many others got the day off.

On Thursday, Costco and those retailers who remain closed deserve our thanks -- not for honoring tradition or time with extended family, but for something far more basic: giving everyone the day to call their own. 

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