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December 8, 2011

Let's talk about Family Dollar opening on Christmas Day

It's pretty much common knowledge that we here at Evil Slutopia have pretty strong opinions about a lot of stuff. So of course, it's always interesting when we have trouble taking an official stance on an issue. Especially when we have trouble completely agreeing with each other.

The current issue at hand is the most recent One Million Moms action alert about Family Dollar stores allegedly being open on Christmas day. We don't completely disagree with them this time (shocking!) but we don't fully agree with their reasoning on every point either. Rather than trying to come to an insincere conclusion, this time we decided to just share our thought process... and see where it goes.

First, some background on this "alert" from the OMM's website:
Family Dollar Stores - Christmas greed at its worst

This Christmas, Family Dollar Stores is breaking new ground by opening some of its stores on Christmas morning. All other major discount retailers (Fred's, Dollar General, Dollar Tree, etc.) are honoring families by remaining closed to allow employees to spend time with their children.

In an internal memo received by OneMillionMoms, Family Dollar shamelessly shows corporate greed is behind the decision: "Only 2 people working per store on Christmas day. Each store needs to do $1100 in sales in order to break even, this is why we only have 2 people working."

This means on Christmas morning, while Family Dollar executives are sitting around the Christmas tree with their families, their employees will be leaving their children at home, just to make a few paltry dollars for the company.

A great many of Family Dollar employees are mothers, many of them single parents. Shame on Family Dollar for breaking up families on Christmas morning!
And here's our take on it... Maybe this will show the OMM how to actually discuss an issue, rather than just jumping to the most inflammatory conclusion. We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Lilith: I'm sort of halfway between agreeing and disagreeing. On the one hand, I don't think anyone should be forced to work on Christmas day. However, if a worker isn't Christian (or doesn't have Christmas plans) and doesn't mind working, then what's the big deal? I'm sure there are plenty of employees who would want to make some overtime pay. If there are only going to be two employees there that day, is anyone necessarily being "forced"? Why is Christmas sacred? Most stores are open on Chanukah and Diwali and almost every other holiday.

Jezebel: I have mixed feelings about it. I don't fully agree with the OMM's reasons for being upset, but I also don't agree with Family Dollar's reasons for being open (if they actually are). I'm sure the Moms feel like Christmas is more sacred than any other winter holiday and wouldn't give a shit about people of other religions having to work on their holidays. My feeling is more that nobody should have to work on their holidays, although I know that's not always totally realistic or practical. I'm sure Family Dollar has some employees who aren't Christian or aren't religious or don't celebrate for whatever reason who wouldn't mind working on Christmas, but are there enough of those people that they won't have to force people who do want to celebrate Christmas to work instead? And do they as a company actually care enough about their employees to make that distinction in the first place? There's also the fact that the majority of this country happens to be Christian, and Christmas is also a federal holiday. That doesn't mean the whole world has to stop, but I feel like if I was, say, traveling in a mostly Muslim country on a major Muslim holiday, I would understand if stores were closed.

Lilith: See, that's part of the issue for me. I don't even really think that Christmas should be a federal holiday when none of the other religions' holidays are. The majority of this country may be Christian (although that is slowly changing) but there isn't a federal religion.

Jezebel: I agree that it probably shouldn't be a federal holiday. I'm just saying that as it stands now it is. Someone did comment on the OMM facebook page "I'm Jewish and I am offended it's such a huge deal when someone works on Christmas but for the Jewish holidays its no big deal."

Lilith: I feel like in this economic climate, it's not that outrageous for stores to need to stay open (vs. choosing to stay open out of pure greed). Not saying that's the case with them, but it's a good argument for staying open for some smaller brands.

Jezebel: I'm not sure about a store like Family Dollar 'needing' to be open on Christmas, just based on numbers alone - when you add up the costs of opening the store and paying the employees extra to be there plus the fact that there's probably not going to be a lot of traffic in the store, are they really making that much profit? The memo (if it's real) mentions how much money they'd have to take in just to break even and I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of locations didn't meet those numbers. So is it really worth it, and does it set a bad precedent that other stores might follow? I feel the same way about stores opening earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving every year. In fact, I was more bothered by stores being open on Thanksgiving just to start Black Friday early than I am by this. I'm pretty sure Kmart was open all day on Thanksgiving. I don't get why that's necessary.

Lilith: Yeah, I agree. I was more disgusted by the stores opening up at midnight on Thanksgiving, than I am about stores being open on Christmas. Mainly because that's not a religious holiday - it's much more universal. Almost all Americans celebrate it in some way. And the Black Friday craziness turns me off in general. But I feel like this is kind of different. It's not that I completely agree with it, but I don't agree with OMM's reasons either. I know plenty of Jewish people who probably wish they could run out and grab some groceries on Christmas or even some Christians who are like "Oh no! I forgot ______!" and need to run out to pick something up. We forget something important on every holiday and it sucks when there's nothing open.

Jezebel: But I think there's a difference between something like a supermarket or a drug store choosing to be open for a few hours for 'emergencies' and a dollar store being open in a lame attempt to squeeze a few extra dollars out of people. I think it's definitely worth considering why a store chooses to be open.

Lilith: Well, Family Dollar sells all kinds of stuff that people might need at the last minute on Christmas and I wouldn't mind having at least one store around my neighborhood that was actually open. Family Dollar sells food, drinks, toiletries, diapers, cold medicine, detergent, etc. All stuff you might realize you need on Christmas and desperately need to find a store for (whether you celebrate Christmas or not). It doesn't bother me that they're open on principle alone. It would bother me if they don't give their employees the choice to stay home on the holiday. I've had jobs where we were open on a lot of holidays, but we were always given the choice to work or not, based on whether or not we had holiday obligations. There are a lot of jobs that don't give people off for Christmas - police departments and hospitals for example. Now you can argue that those jobs are way more important than Family Dollar and you're right.. but my point is that just because it's Christmas doesn't mean ALL THINGS MUST STOP. Especially when you know that if a store closed for Ramadan or something, then people would boycott. The only objection I have is if workers are forced to work or intimidated into working.

Jezebel: I guess I just come down on the side of not trusting most companies to treat their employees well. Maybe this year it's just one or two companies choosing to be open and they're giving every employee the choice about whether to work or not, but if they make a profit is it going to be a slippery slope in future years where more stores are open for longer hours and employees have less choice about whether to work or not? And in this economy with so many people looking for jobs, what's to stop companies from just firing people if they don't want to work on Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc.?

Lilith: I don't necessarily trust any corporate entity to always do the right thing. But that's different than the theoretical question of "is it okay to be open on Christmas?" There isn't any evidence (yet) that employees have been treated unfairly or that they've even been asked to work on the holiday. So I feel like this is one of those times that the OMM is getting outraged over the wrong point. It's "OMG think of the poor children being left alone on Christmas!" when we have no idea if any of the Family Dollar employees in question even have kids or even celebrate Christmas. How do they even know that the employees that will be working will be leaving their families? Not everyone has a family or has plans for Christmas. Or some people might actually welcome something to fill that time if they are alone over the holidays. My daughter splits her holidays between me and my ex every year... the years that she isn't with me, I don't really feel like celebrating at all. It just seems like a big jump to go from "some employees will work part of the day on Christmas" to "Mothers are going to be forced to leave their children home alone on Christmas!" THINK OF THE CHILDREN!

Jezebel: I also agree that they went a little overboard with the 'think of the children' stuff (and this is probably the first time they ever acted like they care about single moms), but on the other hand, just because someone doesn't have kids that doesn't mean that they 'don't have a family' that they want to celebrate Christmas with. Or you could have no family at all but be very religious and want to spend Christmas going to church. But hey, on the plus side for the OMM, Family Dollar uses the word "Christmas"! So at least they can be on the AFA's green list while ruining the holiday for mothers and children everywhere.

Lilith: I was looking at the Family Dollar website and I've yet to find any evidence that it's actually true. I wouldn't put it past the OMM to make up an issue (or just outright misunderstand/over-exaggerate something). And then when the truth comes out they will turn around and claim "they listened to our demands!" even though it had nothing to do with them at all.

Jezebel: Well that is their style. I was reading comments on their page about the 'Naughty or Nice' retailer list that the AFA does and people were talking about some store that didn't have decorations out before but now they do. OMM responded and they were like 'they must have listened to our demands...or they were telling the truth about waiting until after Thanksgiving to decorate for Christmas'. Hmmm, which one could it be? They weren't saying "Merry Christmas" in October but they're saying it now that it's December...they've heard us loud and clear! So it would be no surprise if the OMM was off base about this issue too.

Okay wait, look at this from the Family Dollar Facebook page:
Oftentimes we are the only affordable store for customers in our neighborhoods. In response to customer requests, we decided to open stores to meet their needs:
• Our stores are open on a volunteer basis and less than half our store chain will be open
• Our stores will be open for a short day, only 10-3, allowing those who did volunteer to spend the morning and the afternoon with their families.
• Team Members are being paid double-time for their volunteering to work that day, which will provide extra money to those who may need it.
Lilith: Ah, see that makes it sound better. It's voluntary, it's not a full day, it's double-time pay, and it's based on the customer's requests. I think it's true that if you're really stuck on Christmas for last minute essentials, it's nice to have that option.

Jezebel: But read the comment below: "I did volunteer to work this Christmas, but I hear rumors next year it won't be optional and we will all be open. Let's hope that's not true." I understand their explanation but I also understand the concern that it will be mandatory next year.

Lilith: Yeah, I agree that's a concern. But I feel like, cross that bridge when you get to it maybe. Don't bash them for trying to do what the customers want because they might fuck it up.

Jezebel: Here's an update- The OMM shared an email that they got back from Family Dollar:
We appreciate your concern for our store team members working on Christmas day.
The decision to open some of our stores a limited number of hours (between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.) on Christmas day was not made lightly or in disregard for the sanctity of Christmas. We made the decision in response to the expressed needs of our customers, many of whom have no means of transportation to stores outside their immediate neighborhoods. If our stores are not open, they will have no place to go for food, health aides or other basic household supplies they may need even on Christmas day.

The Family Dollar Team Members who will work a half day on Christmas have volunteered to do so. They are very special folks, not only to us, but especially to the people they serve. We will open late in the morning so that they can enjoy Christmas morning with their families, and we will close early so they can have the rest of the day with their families. Team members who volunteer to work on Christmas will be paid double the wages they would normally receive for the hours worked. For many of our Team Members, this extra income is most welcome, especially during the holiday season.

Thank you for taking the time to make us aware of your concerns.

Howard Levine
Chairman and CEO
Family Dollar Stores, Inc.
Lilith: Cool. That's a good response.

Jezebel: I don't really have a problem with it based on that email. But at the same time, I wouldn't be surprised if it turned into 'Oh sorry, nobody volunteered this time so you have to work' or 'we made so much money that now we're going to be open all day.'

Lilith: Yeah, I wonder what would happen in that case. Would they just not open? Or would someone be forced to work?

Jezebel: Maybe Family Dollar has some integrity and cares about their employees, etc. but what happens when some other dollar store that's a competitor of theirs decides they need to keep up, and they don't care?

Jezebel: The OMM added this note below the response from Howard Levine:
The internal memo that was not meant to get out was sent in by a manager that said it was open to volunteers (first), but if no one volunteered then the managers had to work in select stores. This is a trial to see how well it goes to possibly open more stores next year which may not be on a volunteer basis in the future. The extra pay makes families choose between money and time with family on Christmas. Their reply above is a lame excuse to be open. Most people make arrangements (transportation, etc.) before hand & for medical emergencies there are a few pharmacies that are open. Have not had a response from Family Dollar if they offer the extra pay for other holidays or over time in general if the employees are even allowed to work over 40 hours other weeks of the year.
Lilith: I don't even understand what that means. How do they know all this?

Jezebel: I guess OMM is claiming that someone who works there leaked it to them. Not that I really trust them to accurately explain what's going on.

Lilith: Yeah, I don't trust them at all. I'd sooner trust Family Dollar than the OMM.

Jezebel: Yeah, pretty much. Like we said, it's so like them to exaggerate a problem and then take credit for the 'solution'.

Lilith: There is so much wrong with that reply. First of all, they use ableist language ("lame" excuse to be open). And their argument that people make arrangements for transportation beforehand makes no sense. He just said that this is for the customers who have no means of transportation. What "arrangements" do they think these people are making? Hiring limousines so they can go to the grocery store? They obviously have no idea what it's like to be poor in this day and age. This is more of a class issue than a religious issue and the OMM is showing their fucking privilege.

Jezebel: Yeah, and are they trying to say that most people make arrangements beforehand for medical emergencies?

Lilith: Well apparently "a few pharmacies" are open. So if there's a medical emergency they can just travel across town. Maybe in their neighborhood there's an open pharmacy on every corner. And apparently they don't care about the employees who are "forced" to work on Christmas at these pharmacies. How much do you want to bet they protest those companies for staying open as well? But I really don't understand the extra-pay question. What different does it make if they offer extra pay for other holidays or other overtime? Would that be better or worse? Are they suggesting that only working on Christmas deserves overtime pay because it's so much more special and sacred than any other overtime work?

Jezebel: Yeah, the extra pay for other holidays question is kind of interesting. Can you imagine how the OMM would react if they were paying Muslim employees extra to work during Ramadan or something? But I'm not sure what they're actually getting at. Maybe they're suggesting that the extra pay is their way of getting people to volunteer? Like, they're leading good Christians astray by promising extra money or something. But whatever they're getting at, I think it's safe for us to say they're wrong about it.

Lilith: Well it's always safe for us to say that.

Jezebel: That really goes without saying.


Nancy said...

My biggest issue with all the complaining and petitions and letters - is this started by employees who are upset about being away from families, or by busy-bodies that just feel the need to impose their own self-righteousness on everyone and everything around them? My guess is the latter. I was just talking to an employee's significant other before Thanksgiving. She was half complaining that she had to work on Thanksgiving at Starbucks...but then she added that she wouldn't have passed it up because it was triple time pay. How many people would give their left nut to get triple pay whatever day it may be in this economy? I guess those who need the money to pay bills. My bar is open both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Why? Because one of my bartenders doesn't want to hang out with family all day and volunteers to work it - and we give her the choice - every year. I'm sure people read into that one as well, making us out to be scrooges. Sometimes people just really need to mind their own business and let people fight their own fights, that is, if they actually have one.

Unknown said...

Being raised, and living in Vegas, I don't get what the big deal is. Both my parents work in the service industry and BOTH will be working their usual shifts this Christmas. We come across this situation often. You know what we do? We celebrate it at a different time/day. My mother worked a swing shift for a good chunk of my childhood, so now it's become our tradition to have Thanksgiving dinner at 10 am.

They work swing and graveyard this Christmas. Gifts shall be opened in the morning, as usual. Christmas dinner? Not sure what my mom and dad have figured out, but chances are, it will just be held in the early afternoon, or on a different day. No one will die from this. Our Christmas will not be ruined. Children will not cry and ask god why this horrible Scroogian tragedy befell them.