Christmas profit push an unfair burden for families

It would be so easy to go on about “winter break” replacing Christmas vacation in public schools, or about Target stores banning Salvation Army bell ringers.

“Jingle Bell Rock”? Fine, but heaven (oops) help a teacher who’d dare expose a schoolchild to the loveliness of “Adeste Fidelis.”

Let’s not forget King County Executive Ron Sims’ 2001 memo instructing workers to wish each other “happy holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas,” lest they be culturally insensitive.

There’s silliness in all this walking-on-eggshells political correctness. At least, though, its aim is high. However misguided some proscriptions on the season have become, the goal is fairness.

I understand why public institutions strive to be fair, whatever your faith or lack of one. I understand why kids don’t sing “Silent Night” in public schools. The world is smaller.

Even our corner of it is a multicultural place. I don’t think we can or should go all the way back to the way it was when I was little – when we did sing “Silent Night” in public schools.

But there’s no need to strip away all tradition. I was cheered to see a decorated tree – call it a Christmas tree or not – at the Everett Public Library. I doubt that the star-topped tree at Hewitt and Colby avenues in Everett offends anyone.

It would be easy to write about all that. But I have a different complaint. It may seem the same issue, but it’s not.

Did you know Safeway stores will be open Christmas Day? Not all of them, but many.

Cherie Myers, director of public and government affairs for Safeway Inc. in the Seattle area, said it’s a first for the company. Employees aren’t required to work Dec. 25, until now the chain’s last work-free holiday. “This is voluntary only,” Myers said. Workers will earn at least time-and-a-half. Store hours will be 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“We are trying to find out if this is a time when the customer would like to see a store open,” Myers said. “We live in a diverse world, and we embrace diversity.”

I’m not buying her diversity argument – and I’m not buying a thing at Safeway that day.

Safeway Inc. isn’t alone. Two out of four Albertsons grocery stores I called in Snohomish County will be open Christmas. Doors will also be open at 24-hour Walgreens stores.

Certainly, there have always been people who must work Christmas. In hospitals, police agencies, gas stations, and yes, at newspapers, TV and radio stations, the job gets done 365 days a year.

Tom Kingshott, secretary-treasurer of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 44, laments that a growing number of people are being asked to work Christmas.

“It’s a shame that employers that make great profits throughout the year can’t allow employees to have that time with their families,” Kingshott said.

His union includes Safeway meat cutters. “All the meat cutters I’ve talked with have indicated they’re not going to work, even for time-and-three-quarters,” he said.

“People have family, sons or daughters, flying home. All of a sudden to disrupt that day, it becomes just a regular day – and it’s not a regular day,” Kingshott said.

It’s only a matter of time before malls follow suit. “It used to be on New Year’s Day malls weren’t open. Now many of them are,” Kingshott said. “It’s not the right thing to do. It’s profits over people.”

I agree. Being able to buy Hamburger Helper at Safeway on Christmas has nothing to do with fairness or respecting diversity.

For some of us, Christmas is a day of great spiritual significance. For many, it’s a secular holiday, sacred because it brings family and friends together. For others, it’s just another day. That’s fine.

But take it to extremes, truly make it just another day, would public employees even get Dec. 25 off?

Is it all about fairness and diversity? Or is some of it the almighty dollar?

When a big business makes Dec. 25 just another day, Kingshott is convinced it’s the latter.

“Employers that mandate being open on Christmas, are their corporate offices open Christmas?” he said.

You know the answer to that one. Where’s the fairness there?

Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or

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