Thursday, November 28, 2013

Giving thanks for those who bucked the trend

THE MADNESS of the holiday shopping season begins just hours from now. Any military training or martial-arts expertise you have is about to come handy. Assuming you’re finally mobile again after the tryptophantasy of Thanksgiving dinner, you’ve had time to give thanks for, well, being around to give thanks for anything.

From this humble scribe’s perspective, thanks are in order for some people and, yes, some companies that stepped up to do the right thing by the holiday we celebrate today — for insisting that Thanksgiving still means something more, or at least something else besides another dollar, another chance to beat your competitor to an economic pulp, another mad dash to the store for a bargain that will, guaranteed, be there two or three weeks from now.

Tony Rohr

The general manager of a Pizza Hut restaurant in Elkhart, Ind., took a stand for the deeper meaning of Thanksgiving on Wednesday. Rohr, a 10-year Pizza Hut employee who started at the bottom, said to Indiana station WTSB-TV that he was told at a meeting with his bosses that opening the restaurant on Thanksgiving would be required.

“I said, ‘Why can't we be the company that stands up and says we care about our employees, and they can have the day off?’ ” Rohr told WSBT. “Thanksgiving and Christmas are the only two days that they're closed in the whole year, and they're the only two days that those people are guaranteed to have off and spend it with their families.”

For his generosity of spirit, Rohr was fired for failing to knuckle under. WTSB reported that Rohr was given the option of signing a letter of resignation for refusing to open the restaurant. Rohr’s response was priceless.

“I do not resign,” Rohr wrote. “However, I accept that the refusal to comply with this greedy, immoral request means the end of my tenure with this company.” Then, in a masterstroke of heartfelt populism, he added, “I hope you realize that it is the people at the bottom of the totem pole that make your life possible.”

Rohr’s cri de Coeur didn’t go unnoticed. He was featured in a news block on the Indiana station, and he appeared on a segment of “The Ed Show” on MSNBC that night — an appearance that made Rohr’s stand on principle a national event.

Cue the Pizza Hut Ass Coverage Department: After Rohr’s appearance on “The Ed Show,” the Pizza Hut Twitter and Facebook pages were bombarded with people supporting Rohr’s action — many of them vowing to boycott Pizza Hut. In a turnabout, the company’s parent, Yum! Brands, issued an e-mail statement:

“[W]e feel strongly that the situation involving our independent franchisee and the local store manager could and should have been avoided. We fully respect an employee’s right to not work on a holiday, which is why the vast majority of Pizza Huts in America are closed on Thanksgiving. As a result, we strongly recommended that the local franchisee reinstate the store manager and they have agreed. We look forward to them welcoming Tony back to the team.”

Virginia ABC affiliate WJLA reported earlier today that Rohr said he was contacted by his boss, but he hadn’t called back to that point. “He’s not sure if he wants to return to the store where he worked his way up – or if it’s time to look elsewhere,” the station reported.

It may be time to hang up the apron, Tony. Pizza Hut should have another job available for you ... on its public relations team. They could do a hell of a lot worse in that department.

The companies that just said ‘No’

Like steroid-laced wild boars turned loose at a trough filled with tubers and rodents, big-ticket retailers like Walmart and Macy’s, Kmart and Target can’t resist that chance to get one more day of receipts under their bloated belts, family holiday be damned. Others, though, realize that their employees have families too.

The Patagonia outdoor clothing company, based in Ventura, Calif., and founded by mountaineer Yvon Chouinard, stepped forward in a statement to The Huffington Post. “Our company-owned stores are closed on Thanksgiving so that our associates can celebrate the holiday with their family and friends," Jess Clayton, a Patagonia spokesperson, wrote. "This has been our tradition.”

Same with BJ’s Wholesale Club, a membership-only warehouse chain mostly doing business on the East Coast. “Maybe call me old-fashioned, but I feel that it’s an easy decision to make [to stay closed on Thanksgiving],” Laura J Sen, BJ’s CEO, told HuffPost.

◊ ◊ ◊

And it was the same with Costco, the Issaquah, Wash.-based warehouse company that’s the second-largest U.S. retailer. Paul Latham, Costco’s vice president for membership and marketing, put it simply in an email to The Huffington Post: “Our employees work especially hard during the holiday season, and we simply believe that they deserve the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with their families. Nothing more complicated than that.”

In an era when the rapacious rush to punch up the bottom line by any means necessary has become the norm, it’s damned refreshing to find some big companies that understand business is nothing without the people behind them. For them, it’s about something bigger than money. It’s about respect in a time when it seems there’s less and less of that around. And that’s always worth giving thanks for. Happily, it’s nothing more complicated than that.

Image credits: Tony Rohr: MSNBC. Patagonia logo: ©2013 Patagonia Inc. BJ's logo: © 2013 BJ Wholesale Club Inc. Costco logo: © 2013 Costco Wholesale Corporation.

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