The holiday shopping season is rapidly approaching, with major retailers opening ever earlier on Thanksgiving Day, once a national day of rest and family togetherness that’s succumbing to the forces of consumerism.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE:WMT) is once again pushing Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, a bit earlier into Thanksgiving Thursday. The world’s largest retailer opened at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving in 2011, and 8 p.m. last year. This year it’s opening at 6 p.m. Other retailers, including Staples Inc. (NASDAQ:SPLS) and Macy’s (NYSE:M), are following Wal-Mart’s lead.
If you ask David Green, the 73-year-old founder of Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., the Oklahoma City-based $5 billion national chain of arts and crafts outlets, what these big publicly listed retailers are doing wrong, he'll tell you they are robbing their workers of family time.
Hobby Lobby has been in the spotlight for much of the year as it fights a provision in the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, that requires insurance providers to cover emergency contraception. On religious grounds, the company’s family owners oppose procedures that terminate pregnancies, including the use of morning after pills. Last month, the Greens sent a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the issue.
But the same religious conviction that has made Hobby Lobby the target of ire among birth control advocates – most recently with a small demonstration on Tuesday outside a Hobby Lobby outlet in Ithaca, N.Y. – also leads Green not only to keep his stores open only 66 hours a week and closed by 8 p.m. on most days, but also to pay a starting hourly wage of $14 for full-time employees and $9.50 for part-timers, well above the average for retail. (When asked how many of his approximately 20,000 employees are full time, he replied by saying a "lion's share.") Hobby Lobby also has an on-site clinic with no co-pay at the company’s sprawling 5.5-million-square-foot facility in southwest Oklahoma City.
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Last year, International Business Times spoke with Green after he raised the company’s full-time starting hourly wage to $13 (it went up to $14 in April). Though the content of the interview was not published at the time, Green’s comments still resonate as we see more Thanksgiving time being taken from hourly-wage retail workers so that giant retailers can appease both the general public’s desire to shop on a holiday and the shareholders that expect constant year-over-year growth.
It’s important to note that Green, a social conservative, said he doesn’t take a stand on the federal minimum wage standard and generally opposes government telling the private sector what it should pay its workers. What he advocates is for the private sector itself to do the right thing by its employees by being considerate of their need for family time.
Here is an excerpt from that never-before-published interview conducted in August 2012:
IBTIMES: There’s an ongoing debate about the federal minimum wage. But here you are paying $13 an hour starting wage for your full-time workers and $9 for the part-time employees. [Since this interview those figures went up to $14 and $9.50.] How did you come to determine that this is the minimum you will pay your workers?
GREEN: I think it is up to us that are considered capitalists to care about our people. That’s the bottom line: Care about your people. It’s not all about you and your company and getting bigger and earning more money for you and your stockholders.
In our case, the business is family-owned. The stores are not franchised. We want to do the very best we can for our employees. That’s why we have 401ks, we have health insurance, we have four chaplains around here [in the main office complex at the company’s Oklahoma City headquarters], we have a clinic on our property here where people that have our insurance can go over there for free. Our idea is that we should care about our people. It’s just a basic Christian do-unto-others idea. The most exciting thing I have done in the past for years is to have the ability profit-wise to increase the salaries of these employees. In ’08 it was $10, then it was $11, then it was $12, then it was $13. So, on April 15 of those years we’ve done that.
IBTIMES: Are you suggesting private companies can do more for their employees than public ones?
GREEN: I think there’s no question about that. We couldn’t close on Sundays [if Hobby Lobby were publicly listed and beholden to shareholders and Wall Street expectations]. We couldn’t close at 8 o’clock. I doubt we could pay the people what we do. Now, if I were president of a public company I would push as hard as I could with my philosophy. Is the CEO fighting for that or is he fighting for the bottom line at the expense of the employee? I could give away half of our profit. As it is, it’s our money. They [publicly listed companies] have boards. They have investors, and investors are looking at their portfolios and stock prices and they think to get where they need to go they must be tight on wages. I think it’s the opposite. When I went to $10 an hour, that year, my bottom line percentage went up over 2007. When I went to $11 in ’09 my bottom line went up from the year before. In 2010 it went up. We have not in four years seen a decline. We did not do this for that reason. We ended up earning more money. You can run a company better in 66 hours than in 84 hours. It is the smart thing to do.
These increases cost me between $10 and $15 million, but it didn’t really cost me that. But a lot of people only ask themselves: “For X number of employees, what is this going to cost?” But why should we ask our people to do all they can for us if we don’t do the very best we can for them? We have people now that before would never call us up and tells us that somebody is stealing from the company. I think this is part of the reason why our bottom line has grown. The employees become advocates for us as a company. They become more loyal.
IBTIMES: Have you seen a decline in employee turnover?
GREEN: Yes, we’ve been following that. The average employee retention rate has gone up from about 24 months to 36 months in these four years and it continues to grow. And that includes new employees in our newer stores we’ve been opening every year. It is very, very costly to bring people in and out of your company.