Monday, July 4, 2011

Holidays and Labor

I missed a delivery over the weekend (I had to turn around and go back) because I was distracted. I was distracted by a cat and a deer crossing the road about 100 yards in front of me. It appeared that the cat led the way. I couldn't tell if they stayed together when they finished crossing but it made me think that if cats and deer can work together then perhaps there is hope for Democrats and Republicans as well.

Happy 4th of July.

This morning I googled "labor force" and found that the US department of labor pegs the labor force of America at approximately 153 million people. Although technically, I worked today (there are no days off in the newspaper business), I count myself as one of the majority of workers who had off today, with pay.

But not everyone who is off today, is being paid. And not everyone is off today, as one can easily see at any shopping mall in the country. The fact is, in contrast with every other "western" nation, our country does not mandate annual leave or paid holidays. No employer is compelled to offer the day that celebrates our nation's birth as a day off from work, let alone off with pay!

Fortunately, most employers do count today as a paid holiday. Statistics I found indicate that for higher wage earners, upwards of 88% have off today with pay, and for lower wage earners roughly 66%. (I couldn't find the definition of higher and lower for those percentages, but I discerned that the line is drawn around the $60K per year line). For full time workers the percentage is very high also, but only about one in three part time workers have the day off with pay.

Strangely, one of the biggest reasons why most of us have off with pay, is a result of the work of the unions which negotiated paid annual leave (among other worker benefits we take for granted) with both public and private employers during the economic boom of the 20th century. I say strangely, because unions are under attack all across the United States, especially those that represent public employees. Most recently, Wisconsin and New Jersey legislatures, pushed by Republican governors, passed laws restricting the unions' ability to negotiate benefits. Union influence has steadily waned since its heyday in the 1970's; is it a coincidence that the standard of living for the American middle class has remained static since that time?

Perhaps you will find yourself at a store today. Chances are, it will be a "chain" store as opposed to a local one as it is these chains, department stores, food stores, home improvement stores, etc that traditionally average lower wages, and poor benefits. While some of the people you encounter will be getting paid overtime for working today, the vast majority will not. And while many will have volunteered to work, a large percentage of those volunteers are, in fact, getting paid extra (which is why they volunteered), but a much larger percentage had no choice. They lost the lottery and found their name on the schedule today.

As I have written many times before, America is a great place to live and I am proud to live here. In so many countries on earth today, I would not be able to sit in front of my computer and write the words you have just read. We clearly value freedom and the right to pursue happiness as individuals.

But we can do better!! Business is all well and good but it should not be the only yard stick for our decisions. Public policies that grant all the cards to employers will only continue to erode everyday Americans' ability to enjoy the freedoms of which we are so blessed. Politicians who have no qualms about cutting wages and benefits for workers who earn less than $50K per year, yet quake and moan at the prospect of raising taxes of those earning over $500K per year or (egads!) limiting salaries to $10 million per person, are not looking after my interests, nor, in my opinion, the interests of those who comprise the backbone of this country.

So, again, happy 4th of July. I hope that you are able to enjoy the day as a paid holiday. Be careful working in the yard and grilling your meal. And, if you do go out to shop, be extra nice to the cashier or stock person or sales rep you may encounter. Remember, they are also celebrating our freedoms and our country's birth.

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