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Editorial | BLACK FRIDAY

Massachusetts blue laws 2.0

Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

Shoppers wait in line outside Target at 3:45 a.m. in South Bay Center in Dorchester on Black Friday last year.

MASSACHUSETTS’ BLUE laws date back to the Puritan era, and are often hard to square with modern life. (Still on the books is a ban on dancing on Sundays, which authorities wisely ignore.) But state officials, citing the goal of protecting workers, are enforcing the portion of the law that bans most stores from staying open on Thanksgiving.

That cuts into Black Friday, the post-Thanksgiving retail bonanza that the Puritans surely didn’t anticipate. In recent years, the big-box arms race has spurred stores to open at midnight on the day after Thanksgiving. Under the blue laws, that’s permitted - but employees aren’t allowed to start work a minute earlier, even to prepare for the oncoming crowds.

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Protecting retail workers from feeling pressured to work on Thanksgiving is a noble impulse. But in reality, the blue laws are creating nothing but inconvenience; many stores adjust by simply opening at 12:30 a.m. instead of midnight. Workers still come in - but half an hour deeper into the night.

Fortunately, the blue laws themselves also hint at a solution. Under those same laws, stores that open on certain holidays must pay time-and-a-half for both full- and part-time workers. As it currently stands, businesses that are permitted to be open on Thanksgiving are covered by that overtime rule, but not on the day after Thanksgiving. A sensible adjustment to the blue laws would allow more stores to open late on Thanksgiving, but would extend the overtime rule until sometime the next morning.

Especially in a tough economy, the extra pay would make it easier to get workers for those once-a-year sales - and give those workers more time to prepare for the crush of eager customers.

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