At this time of year, people love to show how thankful they are for their own lot in life, often without giving some thought to the wider society around them. Yes, many people talk about the emergency services, the police officers, fire fighters, and emergency room staff that help to keep people safe, or handle medical emergencies. People say they are thankful for their families, or their own lives, their jobs or friends.
I went out for breakfast, as I often do, at my local Subway. This being Thanksgiving, the shop was closed. The note on the door indicated that they would open at eleven. Since I was out and about, I really wanted a breakfast sandwich. I live close to a tourist area, I knew that someone was bound to be open, even at nine in the morning on Thanksgiving Day. I was correct, and I found one branch of Subway open.
The district manager, a man that I knew from my not infrequent visits to the sandwich chain was sitting at one of the tables, busy with accounts, or logistics, or something else to do with the inner working of his shops. He is in charge of a dozen or more of the franchises, a few hundred of which are run by a local corporation.
Despite this being an important national holiday, the district manager, and a staff member were busy making food for the tourists that walked through the door. The employee probably came in at five or six to get the shop ready to open at seven or eight, just to service the traffic that comes through the door each day.
It was then that I started thinking about the sacrifice that people like this make, not just on Thanksgiving, but almost every day of the year. These workers are most often, but not always, young, often students or just completed a degree at a community college or university, trying to pay off their tuition fees while they look for permanent work, or what passes for permanent work.
These youngsters get up early each day and work long, hard shifts, with low pay, often with little opportunity for advancement. I often frequent places like Subway, and I watch them as they serve customers, pull off their plastic gloves, ring them up, swap with their colleagues to serve another customer. When the customers are no longer coming through the doors, they move into the back, beyond the view of passing custom. Inside they wash trays and dishes, cut those vegetables that don’t come pre-packaged, and pack supplies that arrive at the back door.
When they are finished inside, they don’t sit and take a break, they come out into the dining area, and wipe down tables, replace chairs, mop floors, clean windows. If they are responsible for supplies, they get on the phone to order anything that is running low.
So many people think that it is so easy, you come into the shop and order your sandwich from someone who looks surly and disinterested, and never smiles at the customer. Occasionally you find someone who talks to the customer, or cracks a joke. So few people realise how difficult this work can be.
There is another trend that has developed recently. First, retail stores began opening at eight in the morning on Black Friday. Some stores discovered that opening early gives them an advantage on the competition, so they opened at five in the morning. The opening time has been pushed back further each year, reaching midnight on Thanksgiving Day. This year, many retailers have gone one further, opening at eight in the evening on Thanksgiving Day.
What retailers discovered was that on-line retailers had the field entirely to themselves on Thanksgiving, enabling them to soak up retail dollars before the brick and mortar stores even opened. This was an enormous advantage to the on-line retailers, who often offer lower prices anyway. In order to combat the on-line retailers, brick and mortar outlets now open on Thanksgiving Day.
While this may seem a boon to the retailers, since they can start to make their profits earlier, there are many people who do not have a good time of it. These are the workers that staff these stores, and just as in the hospitality industry, they work for low wages, working long hours, for which they often do not get paid overtime. They seldom get medical insurance, and if they do, deductibles and co-pays are high, and coverage often sparse or non-existent depending on the disorder being treated.
These workers sacrifice time with families and friends, and often years of their lives with little prospect for advancement. Work is often dangerous, as for those workers employed in amusement parks on rollercoasters or other rides that require thousands of people being loaded on and off swiftly, without harming the passengers.
Holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Forth of July are often their busiest time. They deal with obstreperous, fussy, complaining customers and their children, none of whom appreciate the sacrifice that these workers make, just to ensure that they have a good time.
Conservatives criticise workers like this, deny them health care, cut programs like Medicaid, or make the programs so difficult that many people give up trying to get the service. Conservatives complain about food stamps, or Pell Grants that allow low-income people to get an education. They refuse to finance schools, roads, teachers, and law enforcement, and other services that help these low wage workers.
Perhaps it is time to stop and thank these people for doing their jobs, for sacrificing holidays, vacations, medical, and sometimes even a permanent roof over their heads so that we can get our breakfast sandwich, or ride a roller coaster, or take a taxi to the airport. We don’t see them, they are the unseen, the invisible in our society, the people that cut our grass, clean our rest rooms, make our hamburgers. They have lives too, they are people deserving of respect, and we should extend it to them.
These people work hard, pay taxes, obey the rules, and they will always be the underclass, the servants, the serfs of society. They are our whipping boy, the people we claim destroy society, and all the while they are the foundation on which we build society.
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