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An Open Letter to Everyone Outraged That Some of Us Have to Work on Christmas

Starbucks, Cathedral Square, Peterborough, UK
Starbucks, Cathedral Square, Peterborough, UK
Adam Smith via Wikipedia

Dear Well-Meaning Sirs and Madames,

Though it was more prevalent over the Thanksgiving holidays, my Facebook newsfeed seems constantly inundated with outrage that some stores will be open on Christmas Day. Starbucks, for instance will be serving people the caffeine they need to face another political discussion across the dinner table at grandma's house. Denny's and IHOP will have hash browns ready as usual, CVS and Walgreens will be open, and those are just the national chains.

"Those poor people," I keep seeing. "They have to work on Christmas when they should be home with their families. Know what I'm going to do? I'm going to refuse to shop any place that's open on Christmas to send a message that this is unacceptable."

To which I politely would like to ask, "What the cotton-picking hell is wrong with you?"

First thing I have to point out is that there is a certain level of classism involved here. When people beat their breasts about folks having to work on Christmas or Thanksgiving, they aren't talking about nurses or police or power company workers or the folks that feed the animals at the Houston Zoo. Those people never seem to come up in the conversation even though hundreds of thousands of them at least will be punching a clock on December 25.

No, the subjects of the outrage are the clerks and fry cooks and wait staff. They're the poor slaves that are being fed to the machine of corporate greed. Can't we do something about them?

Which is really condescending. Since you're singling out this one class of workers as opposed to another you're basically saying that we're unimportant. That we can be done without for the moment. Yes, an emergency room doctor is worth more than the guy who makes sure the fries don't burn, but the reason the emergency room is still open isn't because of the worth of the staff. It's because people still manage to set themselves on fire and things like that even on Christmas day.

And people need hamburgers, too. People like the homeless who don't have a place to store and cook food on the day everything is closed. Meanwhile, if your contribution to an economic problem is to magnanimously not shop for a single day, then you really haven't offered anything of real worth. It's certainly not going to mean anything to the drug store that remains open so people can get medicine and figures that they might as well hawk sodas and chips while they're at it.

Which brings up another point that I will address with a question. Does your income ever drop because you take Christmas off? If the answer is no, then you probably don't have much in common with the people who are out there working the holiday.

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A CVS pharmacy in Southside Place, Texas
A CVS pharmacy in Southside Place, Texas
WhisperToMe via Wikipedia

Consider wait staff, for a second. Even if by some miracle a waiter gets paid for the hours the restaurant is closed for a holiday, he or she loses and loses big. Most of their money comes from tips. It might be nice to go spend the day with grandma, but it's not going to put a single dollar that could have been collected on what is essentially a forced furlough back in that person's pocket. Pizza delivery people? Same point.

Even if you have a more regular paying job holiday time off can be a major pain in the wallet. For instance, I work 50 hours a week at my day job, which means I clock overtime every single week. I've come to rely on that time-and-a-half to get by, but when the bosses decide to close for three days in the middle of the week for Christmas there goes a pretty big hit to my paycheck. No overtime if you're not there, and because I, and a surprising number of people, still get paid by paper checks even in this day and age, should Christmas fall on or near pay day we have no idea when we'll be paid.

By the way, Starbucks pays time-and-a-half on Christmas. So do a lot of national chains though they aren't legally required to. When every dollar counts, that can be a godsend.

By now I'm sure someone has skipped to the comment section to ask my why the hell we all don't all just get better jobs, and here is the true crux of the matter.

For the last four decades the income level of the top two percent of the country has gone steadily up like it was trying to achieve escape velocity. For everyone below the 50th percentile our income level hasn't even kept up with inflation. The reason is simple; the people at the top started paying themselves disproportionately more of their enterprise's earnings than their employees in a trend that after so long has economically crippled half of the population and built a virtual slave class with no wealth or means. They replaced as many as possible with machines, and had the rest do the work of two for the price of one. In short, they devalued the very concept of labor itself.

They've made us feel worthless. Worth less and less and less.

So if you're upset that poor people have to work on Christmas, ask yourself if there's someone you should be paying enough so that they don't have to in order to keep afloat. If you want to do something nice for them, go into Starbucks and leave a $50 tip. Bring them a pre-paid gas card. Bring them a meal. See them, and take their position to heart. Realize that if we're ever going to have a country where most people actually can enjoy a day without working and not suffer any economic sanctions for it, then it will involve the boss moving a few of those zeroes down the ladder a little.

That would be a much nicer Christmas present than asking that we all go home for the day.

Sincerely, -Jef


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