The first so-called “War on Thanksgiving” has passed, and some state lawmakers said once was enough.
Rep. Mike Foley, D-Cleveland, wants to discourage stores from opening their doors on turkey day by making them pay triple overtime to employees working the holiday and Black Friday. Stores that remain closed on Thanksgiving would not have to pay overtime to employees working Black Friday.
House Bill 360 would also protect from retaliation employees who refuse to work on Thanksgiving.
Foley said the idea came to him while reading the Black Friday newspaper ads with his wife. Foley said he was disturbed at the “hollow capitalism” of opening on Thursday to compete with other stores’ sales and wanted to speak out. He said government should block the practice, similar to how it sets minimum wages and standard working conditions.
“Capitalism, free market, whatever you want to call it, our economic system has rough edges… it’s the role of government to smooth them out,” said Foley.
The Ohio Council of Retail Merchants hasn’t taken a position on opening Thanksgiving day but opposes Foley’s bill. The council’s president and CEO Gordon Gough said the bill discriminates against retailers, when restaurants, movie theaters, bowling alleys and other businesses stay open.
“There is obviously consumer demand because my members who are choosing to be open wouldn’t open the stores and turn on the lights if there weren’t shoppers to shop,” Gough said.
Initial reports indicate Thanksgiving Day shopping gave retail stores a boost. Spending on Black Friday dropped 13.2 percent compared to 2012, according to retail research firm ShopperTrak. But combined spending over Thanksgiving and Black Friday rose 2.3 percent.
Walmart reported 22 million people shopped its stores on Thanksgiving Day and stores completed 10 million transactions between 6 and 10 p.m., alone.
In recent years, more stores have decided to open on Thanksgiving Day to keep up with customer demand and competitors.
Area Elder-Beerman stores opened at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day this year, last year they opened at midnight.
“This was an evolution over the years,” said Mary Kerr, vice president for investor and public relations at Bon-Ton Stores, which owns Elder-Beerman. “Each Black Friday we would open a little earlier than the previous year.”
Kerr said that Bon-Ton offers workers premium pay for working holiday shifts and many associates volunteer to work on the holiday.
For Gap Stores such as Old Navy, opening on Thanksgiving Day has become the norm.
“This is our fifth year at Old Navy and fourth year across our brands opening on Thanksgiving,” said Gap spokesperson Andrea Hicklin. “We know from their receptiveness to our Thanksgiving openings in previous years that many of our customers want the opportunity to jump start their holiday shopping.”
Neither Bon-Ton nor Gap would provide details on how sales went on the holiday.
One regional furniture chain was not open on Thanksgiving Day and has no plans to join the trend.
“We believe that there are certain times that are for work and certain times that are for family and for pleasure,” said Larry Klaben, president CEO of Morris Furniture Company Inc. “Thanksgiving is a time for people to be with their family and their friends.”
Morris has 14 furniture stores in the Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus markets.
Klaben said electronics is a major part of Morris’ sales, but unlike many national competitors the chain is holding firm to its decision to not open on Thanksgiving.
“When you open on the holiday, you’re not only having your associates have to work, but you’re putting offers out there that are forcing people to leave their families and friends to go shop,” Klaben said.
Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island have laws that prohibit big grocery and retail stores from opening on Thanksgiving and Christmas. So-called “blue laws,” which often prohibit the sale of alcohol on Sundays, are rooted in religion, possibly dating back to the Puritans.
Klaben said that even though his company decides to be closed on Thanksgiving, he doesn’t support Foley’s bill.
“I think it should be left up to the business what is a fair and equitable thing to do,” he said. “Unfortunately, the laws are passed because people don’t always do what others consider to be the ethical or moral way of doing something.”
Despite the law’s origins, House Bill 360 does not have much support from social conservatives. Only a handful of Democrats have signed onto the bill, and Foley doesn’t expect the bill to go very far in the GOP-controlled Legislature.
Sen. Bill Coley, R-Liberty Twp., said he doesn’t think lawmakers should step in.
“Thanksgiving is a day for us all to give thanks for blessings bestowed on our country and everybody should choose to do that in a way they deem best,” he said.
Foley said workers should be able to give thanks with their families on Thanksgiving.
“I don’t think Thanksgiving should be the day you get the best deal,” Foley said. “I think Thanksgiving should be the day you play football with your family, have a big dinner, complain about crazy Uncle Bob.”