America Is the No-Vacation Nation
The labor movement in the United States of America has won workers some important rights and benefits, such as weekends and overtime pay. There is still more work to be done.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt first signed the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) into law in 1938. Considered revolutionary at the time, it set standards for minimum worker wages, put a cap on the number of hours in workweek, and outlawed oppressive child labor. The FLSA also governs overtime pay.
To this day, however, the FLSA has nothing to say about vacations and vacation pay for private sector employees. The FLSA is silent on the matter of any paid time off, including sick leave and federal or other holidays.
A recent report published by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) indicates that the United States is the only developed country that fails to mandate paid time off to employees. Aside from the States, Japan and Canada are the stingiest, with only 10 paid vacation days per year. However, Canada’s other benefits (paid via taxation) make it arguably one of the least stingy countries on the face of this planet.
According to CEPR, one-fourth of the United States workforce is offered no paid vacation days or paid holidays over the course of the year. Not surprisingly, the large majority of this 25 percent are in low-wage, part-time, or small business employment. When this section of the population does have paid time off, it is much less generous than what higher-paid, full-time employees may be offered. To make matters worse, a large percentage of employees who have the option of enjoying paid time off choose not to take it.
An analysis of the CEPR report on Today presented some interesting sides of the argument. Because paid time off is not mandatory, senior economist with CEPR John Schmidt believes that lack of job security is an incentive for employees to not take paid vacation time, even if they have it. The fear is that being out of the office for an extended period time will make them seem less valuable in their employer’s eyes.
In addition, those that do take paid vacations don’t always get to enjoy them without working.
If paid time off were mandated, then this would become a moot point. And yet, on the conservative side, people argue that “there is no compelling reason” for the government to be involved in paid time off. At best, it seems revolutionary to them and, at worst, unconstitutional.
Jonathan Grossman repeats a quote on the federal Department of Labor website:
“When he felt the time was ripe, President Roosevelt asked Secretary of Labor Perkins, ‘What happened to that nice unconstitutional bill you had tucked away?'” He was referring to the FLSA. Perhaps it is time to mandate employee paid time off.
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