COLUMBUS, Ohio – A lawmaker in Ohio wants stores in the state to pay triple wages for employees who work on Thanksgiving -- an effort that comes as Macy's, the holiday's quintessential retailer, is allowing its workers to choose whether to work that day.
Both are attempts to counter frustration among workers and their families over holiday store hours that have expanded into the holiday.
State Rep. Mike Foley, a Democrat from Cleveland, said his bill would allow employees to bow out of the holiday shift without job sanctions while protecting family time from excessive consumerism.
It comes after a federal complaint filed earlier this year accused Wal-Mart of illegally firing, disciplining or threatening more than 60 employees in 14 states for participating in protests over wages and working conditions.
Worker organizations -- especially the AFL-CIO labor coalition -- have organized additional pickets around holiday staffing this year, alongside social media campaigns publicizing workers' personal accounts. They're pushing shopper boycotts on Black Friday -- the day after Thanksgiving -- and on the holiday itself, which is sometimes referred to as Gray Thursday.
Foley said the idea for his bill came from a call last year from a Cincinnati woman who said both she and her 82-year-old mother had been scheduled to work their retail jobs on Thanksgiving.
"I was offended by it," he said. "Can't there be one day that's carved out of this consumerist, materialistic society we're living in?"
Macy's, Wal-Mart and about two dozen other major retailers open on Thanksgiving Day say consumers demand it. The list also includes Kmart, Target, Kohl's, JCPenney, Sears, Toys R Us and Office Max.
Macy's spokesman Jim Sluzewski said Thanksgiving is when many customers prefer to shop, citing National Retail Federation figures that show 44.8 million people shopped on Thanksgiving Day last year, up 27 percent from 2012.
He said the company conducted an employee survey on holiday staffing preferences and found many Macy's employees appreciated the opportunity to work on Thanksgiving. He said only full-time employees who volunteered are working the holiday this year, and they'll be paid the overtime rate of time-and-a-half. Remaining staffing needs will be met with seasonal workers.
"The positive response to working on Thanksgiving was strong," Sluzewski said. "In fact, many associates told us that working Thanksgiving evening and overnight means they can be home or with family and friends on Black Friday, which is very unusual in the retail industry."
Seana Shannon, a 31-year-old Target worker in Columbus, volunteered to work an earlier shift on Thanksgiving, leaving the remainder of her time free for family.
"I actually picked the earlier shift on Thursday, so I could be home for the weekend," she said. "So it worked out. I'm used to it."
Macy's is opening at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving this year, two hours earlier than last year. The store's annual Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City has made its name synonymous with the holiday.
A call seeking comment from Wal-Mart was not returned.
Other retailers -- among them Neiman-Marcus and Nordstrom department stores, bookseller Barnes & Noble and warehouse clubs Sam's Club and Costco -- will remain closed on Thanksgiving.
"Our employees work especially hard during the holiday season and we simply believe that they deserve the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with their families. Nothing more complicated than that," Costco said in its statement.
Gordon Gough, president and CEO of the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants, said the trade group doesn't take a position on whether stores should be open on Thanksgiving. But he said the group disagrees with Foley's proposal to impose a triple-pay requirement only on retailers.
Gough said it wouldn't be fair because some restaurants, gas stations and other businesses have long been open on the holiday.
"We would be opposed to the triple pay for retail employees, which would be discriminatory," he said. "There are many industries that are open on Thanksgiving."
The Ohio proposal, from a Democrat in a Republican-controlled Legislature, is unlikely to progress beyond the first hearing it got last week.