Black Friday Creep: A Security Guard’s Perspective

It’s hard to hear the word “doorbuster” without remembering the death four years ago of Jdimytai Damour, the 34-year-old temporary crowd control worker stationed at the door of a Long Island Walmart who was trampled to death when the crowd ripped the door off the hinges, clamoring for the best deals on flatscreen TVs as the global economy collapsed.

Reader W. is a security guard who works for an outside contractor, normally not working retail. W. was asked to put in a 16-hour shift at a retails tore this Black Friday, and said (I paraphrase) “Oh, HELL no.”

Here’s what W. wants us all to remember, though. When the store opens early and employees have to report in earlier than that, contractors are present even hours before that to perform crowd control and keep the lines fair. They’re giving up even more of their holiday than store employees. They’re the ones working to keep some semblance of order, but also to not be trampled.

One other side effect of the Black Friday creep is that other contractors who assist the store, specifically contract security officers, have to come in before the sale even starts. My company asked me if I would kindly work a 16 hour shift (from 4pm Thanksgiving until 8am Friday) I respectfully suggested that they pound sand. I worked 14 hours last year. I am done with trying to maintain a highly visible presence all the while trying to avoid getting trampled! Keep in mind I have a day job also with the same security agency at a non-retail location. I’d be trading two 8-hour shifts for one 16-hour shift,

It is also worth noting that last year when they began the sale at around 9 or 10pm, the store was mobbed for the opening and then by about 2am the store was virtually empty. 5 officers stood around the entrances of one store with virtually no activity for the remainder of the night. I suppose I am fortunate in that I am able to decline to work such special assignments. I feel terrible for the retail employees who’d jeopardize their employment by opting out.

The moral of the story I believe is that it’s a zero-sum game. Any retailer (large or small) can hype massive loss leaders at any hour of the day or night on any day of the week (June 17th at 10am for instance), whether you’re talking about $100 televisions or gasoline for $0.29.9/gallon; a large number of people will skip work, play hookie, skip family celebrations, weddings, funerals, or miss the big game on television in hopes of securing a bargain. Traffic will be snarled, fist fights will break out (An altercation occurred last year at the store I worked over the last prepaid cellphone on sale for chrissakes!), and once the loss leaders are gone, the mobs will just move on to the next store offering doorbuster sales.

I don’t know if moving the sales to the weekend before would really happen.. There are already plenty of “Pre-Black Friday” sales, as brick and mortar stores try to compete with online retailers. I really think the only thing which will put the kibosh on all the BF-creep shenanigans would be a massive and widespread employee strike at these locations. But for all the union busting efforts made by the big box stores, it’s highly unlikely that such actions will gain enough traction to be truly effective.. The few who do strike will lose their jobs while making life even harder on the employees who do come to work.