In interviews with two dozen employees at several local Safeway stores yesterday, most said they opposed the supermarket's plans to operate the store on what has become the industry's last work-free holiday.
"I think it's a terrible shame," said Donald Jones, a 59-year-old meat cutter at the Safeway in Waldorf. "This is an attack on families, who should be together at home on Christmas."
Safeway will be the only major area grocery chain open on Dec. 25.
Judy Hundley, a 62-year-old cashier at Safeway in Burke, said supermarket employees "already work Thanksgiving," adding, "We already work on Easter. Why do we have to work Christmas, too? This is the only holiday we have left."
Neither Jones nor Hundley has signed up to work on Christmas, even though they could each make more than $300, given their seniority.
"Christmas is more important than the money," Jones said.
Union officials and employees worry the voluntary program in place this year could become a mandatory system in the future. "It starts with volunteers, but who knows down the line?" said Amy Kephart, 39, a cashier at a Safeway in McLean.
Not everyone objects to the new Christmas Day schedule. A handful of employees said they viewed the holiday hours as a shot at extra money and said they had gladly signed up to work.
Tadashia Greenhill, a 28-year-old cashier at the Safeway in Dupont Circle, says she will earn $150 for working the holiday. "My daughter is older, and I have the time," she said.
Safeway's biggest competitor in the region, Giant Food, said it would closely watch the Christmas Day experiment.
"We'll want to see what kind of response there is," said Giant Vice President Barry F. Scher. He said the grocery chain has not ruled out opening Giant stores on Christmas in the future.
But Shoppers Food Warehouse President William J. White said Christmas "is the last day we would open our stores," adding, "That is a day for our associates to spend with their families."
Safeway customer Deidre Ottengren, 33, who lives in Greenbelt and shops at the Dupont Circle supermarket near her office, said was shocked to learn the chain is opening stores on Christmas.
"I thought it was sad enough to see them working on Thanksgiving," she said. "These are family days."