NPR

Working On Thanksgiving? Reasons To Be Grateful

The line between Black Friday and Thanksgiving gets blurrier every year. This year, employees and consumers are circulating petitions protesting retailers' plans to open on Thanksgiving. Journalist Lewis Turner says he's worked on eight of the last ten turkey days, and it's not all bad.

Transcript

JENNIFER LUDDEN, HOST:

On this week's Opinion Page: working the Thanksgiving holiday. A California Target employee known as C Renee is in the headlines this week for circulating a petition asking Target not to open on Thanksgiving evening. More than a quarter million people have signed the petition so far, which reads: I have worked at Target for six years, and I really enjoy my job. Thanksgiving, though, is one of the three days us retail workers get off a year, a day most all of us spend with family we only get to see on that day. I have no problem with Black Friday. I thought it was interesting the first year I worked the 4 a.m. opening. Last year's opening at midnight was pushing it. By the time I left around 8 a.m., I was absolutely exhausted, she writes.

I am a recent transplant to California with my boyfriend. I don't have any family out here, and having to work on Black Friday prevents me from going home to the East Coast to see my family. My boyfriend does have some family out here, so Thanksgiving is the one day we get to spend with people we know. I currently work two jobs, substitute teaching and work Target at nights and weekends, so having Thanksgiving off really does give me that one day to relax and visit family I otherwise have no time to see.

And C Renee, the petitioner from Target, says: I just heard that one of Target's top competitors, Wal-Mart, will open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving this year. Since workers need to show up sometimes hours before the store officially opens, this will take much of Thanksgiving away from retail employees across the country. Target can take the high road and save Thanksgiving for employees like me and our families by saying no to Thanksgiving Creep.

So we'd like to hear from you. If you work Thanksgiving, how do you make the holiday work for you? Do you change your traditions to accommodate your work schedule? Call us at 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. You can join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Meanwhile, it is not just retail employees who will be reporting to work on Thursday. Lewis Turner is a reporter and anchor with First Coast News in Jacksonville, Florida. He says he's worked eight of the last 10 Turkey Days, and that there are several reasons to be thankful for holiday work. He joins us from member station WJCT there in Jacksonville.

Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

LEWIS TURNER: Hey, Jennifer. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it. Very thankful for it.

LUDDEN: Yeah, thankful. Well, I hope this isn't a day off for you.

(LAUGHTER)

TURNER: No. No. This is a workday. We are pushing through right through the Thanksgiving and right into Black Friday, as well. Very busy week to be a journalist, for sure.

LUDDEN: Yes. Yes. Well, what will your - so where will you do Thanksgiving? Are you going to get turkey this year?

TURNER: No. I'm going to have a nice bag of Bugles from the break room there at First Coast News, and going to get to it, get to doing my story. Actually, let me be honest. The typical Thanksgiving for me and for many working journalists - especially on television - the bosses, they may not be around. However, they're always good about putting out a nice spread for us, which is actually kind of cool. So we...

LUDDEN: That's helpful.

TURNER: Yeah, that is helpful. So at least we do have a free lunch out of it. For the folks who work the evening shift, they'll get a little bit of dinner out of it. So that's kind of cool and a bit of a benefit.

LUDDEN: And we do a potluck here at NPR. At ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, it's a potluck day.

(LAUGHTER)

TURNER: Oh, yeah. Got to have a potluck. Somebody's going to bring a pie. I'm going to bring my world famous green bean casserole. And, you know, the tradition, yeah, eight of the last 10, I have worked. I have been off a couple. But, you know, my childhood tradition of let's all get around, gather around with the family, it just kind of fades away. And I know that there is a sadness to that, but you've got to be thankful for the fact that, you know, at least there's a steady paycheck coming in and I do have the boss that's cool enough to cook us a little something special. So that's nice, too.

LUDDEN: Now, does your family kind of resent this or are they OK?

TURNER: You know what? I've talked to my father - my mother and father are both very cool about it, you know, and granted - now, mom being mom is more disappointed. And I think you're going to find that from the maternal side of things. But I told dad. Dad, yeah, this is awesome, great work. Get to work, nose to the grindstone, everything like that. So he's at least on the happier side of things.

Now, my wife, this is where it gets tricky, I think. When you work on holidays, you've got a wife at home, now, she is a teacher. She is going to be guaranteed time off for, you know, the major holidays, especially Thanksgiving and then Christmas coming up as well. And so I - that's where I have to make some adjustments, and a lot of folks do as well, make the trip. I'm going to have to fly her up New York to be with her family. So we're still going to be dealing with travel just on that end of the family.

LUDDEN: I see.

TURNER: So that's the disappointing side of it.

LUDDEN: Right. Now, you - to be fair, the news business is a lot different from the retail business. I mean probably more a quiet day for you; you're kind of trying to gin up some news on Thanksgiving aside from the turkeys. It's kind of different.

TURNER: Absolutely, it's different. I have more respect - I've been in the Black Friday crowds as a journalist. I've never actually had to shop on Friday, but you see it from the journalist's perspective, where you're outside of the lines. You're outside of the store, maybe you've got your camera in hand and you're interviewing folks while they're going through the process.

But the folks on the retail industry, I get it. I mean, you were working nonstop in these midnight openings. That's pushing it. And I, you know, it is tough to say, yeah, I'm thankful for this midnight. That's bizarre. And some of the folks - actually just this past week, I did that story, in fact, going out and interviewing as many people as I could find that have to work on Thanksgiving. And the general - the folks who are happiest were the folks that, you know, didn't have that sort of grind that they know they have to dread. I mean, it's going to be a long night for folks who have to work in that sort of business, for sure.

LUDDEN: Let's get a caller in on the line here. We've got J.D. in Woodstock, Virginia. Hi, J.D.

J.D.: Hello. How are you?

LUDDEN: Good. Go right ahead.

J.D.: It seems to me that all the advertising and all the push for Christmas this year came really early, like before Halloween.

LUDDEN: That's right. I think I saw some trees go up and there's music already. My son, this morning, wouldn't let me put the music on the radio. He said, no, mommy, not until after Thanksgiving.

(LAUGHTER)

J.D.: Exactly. Exactly. I mean, you know, a couple of the Wal-Mart stores around had Christmas decorations and Christmas things up before Halloween. It just seems to get earlier every year. (Unintelligible) kind of blessing. It just kind of takes away from, you know, I don't know...

LUDDEN: So now, J.D., you - have you or do you find yourself ever working on Thanksgiving?

J.D.: I work every Thanksgiving. We farm.

LUDDEN: A-ha. You don't get a day off, do you?

(LAUGHTER)

TURNER: Always working, yeah.

J.D.: Always working, but we - on Thanksgiving and Christmas, you know, and make sure everybody's fed and happy and don't really do any real work that day. So, yeah.

LUDDEN: So you try to give yourself a little something to make the most of it?

J.D.: Just a little. Yeah, yeah...

So, J.D., I've got to ask, are you thankful to be working on Thanksgiving? Or do you, you know...

Actually, yeah. Oh, yeah. Oh, yes.

TURNER: Yeah.

J.D.: Oh, yes, definitely.

TURNER: Very cool.

LUDDEN: All right.

TURNER: That's very cool.

J.D.: Yeah. I have friends that have lost jobs and are having trouble finding jobs and have had to relocate for jobs. So yeah, I consider myself very lucky.

LUDDEN: All right. Well, J.D., thanks for sharing. I appreciate it and Happy Thanksgiving.

J.D.: Thanks. Happy Thanksgiving.

LUDDEN: All right. We've got a few emails here. Liz writes in: I worked for a retail job for a while and Black Friday was mandatory to keep your job. My family was upset that I had to leave early from or missed gatherings. In fact, this is the first Thanksgiving I'll get to go in the past three years. However, the customers for the early shift were cheerful, courteous and not yet exhausted and stressed. It was not the worse sales day of the year. And if it were optional, I would take the extra hours and extra pay, since I don't have kids of my own. It's much harder for people with families to care for.

Another email from Amber. This will be my second year working Thanksgiving as a shuttle driver for a car rental company. I started at 6:00 a.m., am off by three. While it means I can't cook Thanksgiving, I can jet over to my sister's for dessert and coffee and work provides us with a Thanksgiving lunch, which I am thankful for during my drive. That's not a bad deal. Thanks for writing.

TURNER: It's a pretty good deal.

LUDDEN: Mark in Baton Rogue, Louisiana, welcome to the TALK OF THE NATION.

MARK: Thank you. I make it work. I just make the time shift adjustments. I work as an independent contractor for a pharmaceutical distributor, and Thanksgiving will be another day in health care. This is my second year of going to any kind of a holiday like Christmas, and New Year's last year. Christmas Eve and New Year's, I delivered medicine, and...

LUDDEN: Oh, that must been rewarding. I mean, that's - is that urgent care medicine there?

MARK: It's all kind. I go to rehabilitation hospitals, so sometimes it's urgent. Sometimes it's stat. Sometimes it's just their medical maintenance. But I just take the evening, make the trips, bring the medicine and spend the day before I go to work in the evening with family and friends and have a great time.

LUDDEN: So is that what you mean by making adjustments? You kind of shift it to the day before?

Yeah. Yeah. In other words, yeah. I have to give up, you know, the night before, some major holidays, like Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. But on Thanksgiving I was just going to take a nap in the afternoon, you know, and maybe watch a little college football. And that's not that much to lose.

(LAUGHTER)

LUDDEN: All right. Well, Mark, thank you for the call.

MARK: Thank you.

LUDDEN: Lewis Turner, what have you done in past years? You said you've worked many, many Thanksgiving.

TURNER: Yeah...

LUDDEN: I mean, you kind of do that going into your business, right?

TURNER: Absolutely. And I think that's, you know, a lot of folks - I mean, in just a quick aside, you know, doctors and nurses - my mother's a nurse. She works Thanksgiving and Christmas and gets paid for it, time and a half. And that's kind of nice, you know, to have that little bonus. But, you know, you're not there - the caller said, a couple of callers ago, about, you know, she still - or I should say the emailer who said, yeah, I still get to go home and have dessert and coffee.

That's usually how it works with my family. You know, we'll - somebody will have cooked. I get to be the beneficiary. I'll just stroll in the door. All right. Get little turkey leg, a cup of coffee, and you're good to go. And that's typically how we make it work. Or you know, sometimes when I've had to work the night shift, you cook early. You have Thanksgiving lunch, maybe it's a brunch, and then you head into work fat and happy and you're very thankful for that.

But you know, working in this business, the Thursday of Thanksgiving, you're right, and then you mentioned, it's - in my line of work it's a little more quite, typically. Of course news doesn't stop. I mean, things can happen here in Jacksonville, Florida. Any time things can pop, and we'll be running out to cover that, and you know, make no mistake, while certain folks will be off on Thanksgiving, the newsroom, we're always fully staffed, you know, and it's always - as far as reporting and anchoring is going, you know, we're able to cover the stories. And so that way, you don't lose traction for sure. It's really - you got to look at it kind of as any other day. And it's, you know, the bummer is, yeah, you know, your friends and family are together. And the night before, you know, a lot of times folks are going home and getting together and enjoying that fellowship. But you can enjoy family 365 days out of the year.

So the way I'm looking at it, I'll get an extra day off to take some time in the first of the year. I'll get to go, you know, be the hog of my mom's time as opposed to have to share her with, you know, five or six other people. It'll just be me and her, some real good quality time, you know?

LUDDEN: There you go. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And we have another caller, Mike in Cincinnati, Ohio. Hi, Mike.

MIKE: Hi. How are you doing?

LUDDEN: Good. What's your story?

MIKE: Well, you know, I work in retail on and off throughout my career and have as such had to work on Thanksgiving. What we've done in my family - because (unintelligible) as a matter of fact - is that we'll celebrate a day before or a day after, and we have even are celebrating as much as a week before or a week after. I think the problem is that a lot of people get hung up on that day. And the important think is I'm with my family. My mom is the best cook in the world. Trust me, no one cooks better. And as such, I'm happy to go home and get that meal. So if it's a week before, I don't care if it's not actually Thanksgiving day. I'm more concerned with just getting me Thanksgiving meal whatever day I can get it and...

LUDDEN: Sure. But if there's kids in the picture, they're not going to have school off that next week.

MIKE: Well, you know, if we have to push it to a weekend - you know, and that's fine. Additionally, you know, one thing I've found is that a couple of times I've worked on Thanksgiving day in the morning, and then caught a flight. And flights on Thanksgiving day are a heck lot cheaper than the day before or the day after. So you know, that kind of plays in my benefit as well.

LUDDEN: Excellent strategies. All right, Mike. Thank you so much.

MIKE: Thanks for taking my call.

LUDDEN: And let's get another call here. Dan is in Chicago. Hi, Dan.

DAN: Hi there.

LUDDEN: Go right ahead.

DAN: Well, pretty typically our Thanksgiving starts off really early in the morning. And then as the afternoon approaches we try to start letting everybody know that we're not going to be able to stick around very long. And before long I have to get ready to go to bed and try to get some sleep before I usually am up at 10:00 to be to work by 10:30, 11:00 and start my Thanksgiving day, which really (unintelligible) Black Friday, which consists of about a 12-hour day.

LUDDEN: Wait a minute - 10:00 at night or in the morning? What...

DAN: Ten o'clock at night until 10:00 in the morning.

LUDDEN: Ooh, overnight into Friday?

DAN: Yeah.

LUDDEN: Ouch. And I'm sorry. Tell me again what time do you sit down for Thanksgiving dinner?

DAN: Typically about 3:00 in the afternoon.

LUDDEN: Thanksgiving lunch and then you - wow. So how do you...

DAN: You're kind of hit it on both sides - kind of hit on both sides of the day. I mean, you're getting - you're not really getting the full brunt of the Thanksgiving. And then the Friday where you could kind of recover from having the big turkey dinner, you've got to go in and you've got really all of that. You can be sleeping the rest of Friday, I'd imagine, if you're going to work that overnight shift. Am I right?

Yeah, exactly. It's really hard to spend time with your family doing that too. I'm sure you can imagine.

TURNER: Yeah.

LUDDEN: Well, do you feel - is it mandatory or did you - do you volunteer for the shift?

DAN: Oh, no. It's absolutely mandatory. And it's been - I've worked for the company for 12 years, or going on 12 years, and you're told that you're going to work 12 hours a day. And if you don't show up, you're not going to have a job the following day.

LUDDEN: Oh, dear.

TURNER: Yeah. That's where it's tough to be thankful, when somebody is really driving that part home, you know, and kind of making you resent the job. And I think that's what, you know, the first - the petition we had heard from C. Renee, I think that resentment is coming from the fact that there is no option.

And I wonder if retailers - if they post it as, hey, here's something voluntary, here - if you volunteer, we're going to provide you this incentive. And I know that doesn't maximize profit, but I guarantee you, you're going to get some of the younger folks, some of the folks who maybe aren't in a hurry to rush right home to mom and dad or to the family and maybe want to make that extra cash. And perhaps more folks will be thankful for working on Thanksgiving is the grand point there, I think.

LUDDEN: Right. Well, Dan, thank you for calling, and we wish you a happy Thanksgiving at some point.

DAN: Hey, thanks for listening and getting that out there.

LUDDEN: Thank you. And we have an email. Rich from Arkansas writes in that this years, our senior management decided that the cost to the employees was greater than the income potential. None of our stores will open before 6:00 a.m. on Black Friday. As a 20-year retail veteran, I am very happy our company decided to do the right thing, he writes.

Lewis Turner, last thoughts on Thursday for you?

TURNER: Well, it's going to be a great day. The tradition, so to speak, has become working. So you know what? I'm having my tradition. I'm very thankful for my tradition, and I'm going to take that extra time off, you know, maybe sometime right before Christmas even, and enjoy family. Then the benefit of this work that I do is typically, if you work Thanksgiving, you get Christmas off or vice versa. So at least I've got that to look forward to as well.

LUDDEN: You'll be thankful then.

(LAUGHTER)

TURNER: Be very, very thankful then. That's right, Jennifer.

LUDDEN: Lewis Turner is a reporter and anchor in Jacksonville, Florida. His commentary, "Several Reasons to Be Thankful for Your Thanksgiving Work," ran last week on First Coast News. He joined us today from member station WJCT. Thank you so much, Lewis.

TURNER: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

LUDDEN: Tomorrow, Neal Conan is back with the look at the rebel movement in Congo and the Congolese army and U.N. Peacekeepers' response. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Jennifer Ludden in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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