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Black Friday Violence: Workers Face Stampedes, Robberies, Pepper Spray and Fatigue

Workplace ViolenceFor American workers, the Thanksgiving Holiday ends earlier and earlier each year as retailers compete to open their doors before competitors and lure shoppers with product discounts. This year a number of stores moved up their sales launches to intrude on Thursday’s national holiday, which was then followed by all-night service on Black Friday.  While most American families were coming together to enjoy football, food and company on Thanksgiving morning, Sears opened its doors for early-bird shoppers. Workers at Toys-“R”-Us also had to cut their holiday short to prepare for a 10pm opening on Thursday, while retail giants like Target and Best Buy upset many employees by opening doors at midnight on Thanksgiving instead of the usual 5 am early-bird time on Black Friday.

Yet these extreme working hours are not the only thing to encroach on workers who, not long ago, still enjoyed a full day to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends: violence has also become increasingly common during the Black Friday shopping frenzy, putting more and more workers at risk of physical injury, anxiety, fatigue, and emotional stress.

According to Los Angeles police, one woman at a Los Angeles Wal-Mart used pepper spray on at least 20 other shoppers to gain a competitive edge on accessing discount items. Wal-Mart workers, who are already grossly under-paid and receive negligible benefits, also had to deal with shootings and robberies in California, Florida and South Carolina. Police also reported a stabbing outside the Wal-Mart in Sacramento, N.Y.

In another case, a grandfather fell victim to police violence after stuffing a product in his waistband to free his hands and help his fallen grandson to his feet (although there are vast discrepancies in witnesses reports, with others claiming that the man was shoplifting, and merely subdued by the police with appropriate force).

Even after the long Black Friday shifts ended, workers continued to suffer injuries. According to the Palm Beach Florida Sheriff, one Target worker driving home from her early-morning shift fell asleep at the wheel and veered into a canal. She was submerged for 5 to 6 minutes before being rescued, but miraculously survived the ordeal. Despite the fact that exhausting workplace demands and conditions caused her fatigue, it is unlikely that she will qualify for workers’ compensation benefits for her injuries, since she the employee already completed her shift and left her workplace.

Many Americans are alarmed to see these long work hours (and the shopping frenzy in general) eclipse the Thanksgiving holiday, and are signing petitions or joining movements like “Save Thanksgiving.”

VIDEO: Workers & Black Friday Violence

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Emery Reddy