Two internet memes seem to be making the interweb rounds as of late, both somewhat related to the holidays. One shows a photo of weary soldiers with the caption “WalMart employees: tell me again how working on Thanksgiving is ruining your holiday?” The second includes various admonitions to buy from local stores during this holiday season instead of from large chain corporations (I’ll tackle the second in a later post).
The first refers to a threatened walk-out by WalMart employees on Black Friday who supposedly have been stirred up by unions to demand better pay and working conditions. The photo caption reminds us of the reality that some people will just plain have to work on Sundays, holidays, and other days or times that we wish everyone could be home with their families praying a Rosary together. Soldiers, police officers, firefighters, emergency room doctors/nurses/EMTs, are the obvious ones, but there are others less obvious.
If the power goes out in your house just before you begin cooking Thanksgiving dinner, you will hope that some utility employees are working. If you hop into the car for an all-day drive to Grandma’s for Christmas, you will hope that some gas station employees are working. If your child’s temperature starts spiking and you worry about febrile seizures, you will hope that some drugstore employees are working. If you own a farm, well, the cows don’t know it’s Thanksgiving; they still need to be fed.
The argument is made that people shouldn’t have to work on holidays or Sundays, and I’m certainly sympathetic to that. I try whenever possible to not shop on those days, even if doing so would make life a little easier, and I try to convince friends and family to do the same. But the line is somewhat arbitrary. We want some utility employees to work so that dinner can get cooked, but what if it’s just to make sure we can still watch the game? We want some gas station employees to work so that we can get to Grandma’s, but what if it’s just to go buy cigarettes?
The objective is for people to value time with God and their families on Sundays and holidays, but the proposal often is to force (by law or moral suasion) businesses to close on those days; it’s not clear to me how this proposal effectively achieves the objective. The neglected solution is for consumers to voluntarily refrain from shopping on those days. Sure, passing a law banning stores from opening on Black Friday will allow employees to stay home, but so will consumers deciding to forgo shopping.
If WalMart wants to go the Chick-fil-A route and be closed on Sundays or holidays, that’s fine with me. If they so choose, they can be closed every third Wednesday of months containing the letter U. But before we yell at WalMart to change its business model, perhaps we should examine our own buying behavior. Supply and demand are both important.