The American Worker, Labor Day and Other “Paid” Holidays

Are you scheduled to work this Monday, September 1st, 2014? If so, will you be receiving time and a half, or possibly even double time? Or, like many Americans, will you have the day off – paid or unpaid? The United States will be celebrating its 120th Anniversary of Labor Day, an official federal holiday recognized as such in 1894, this coming Monday.

Yet, so many of the United States’ citizens are left wondering, what is Labor Day, what is its importance and why if it is a federally recognized holiday put in place to celebrate workers do we not see its benefits? This curiosity is caused due to the shocking amount of workers who will not receive the day off, let alone receive any type of “celebration” for their efforts on this day.

As it says on the Department of Labor’s website: “The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.”

How, though, are we paying tribute to the workers for whom work is made mandatory on this day, or any federally recognized holidays for that matter? Parallel to this issue, how are we recognizing the workers who will receive the day off but not receive any wages for it? For many, Labor Day is an unpaid holiday that they would rather not have off, due to financial struggle.

United States law does not require employers to pay any wage premium when they choose to remain open and request their employees to work on Labor Day, or any other holiday. Unfortunately, this means that those Americans working in the restaurant industry or hospitality, retail even, get the same hourly pay for working on Labor Day, a day they are supposed to be celebrated, as they do any other day of the year.

According to the Department of Labor, 25.5 million workers do not get any paid holiday time. This means that they either get national holidays off without pay or it is considered mandatory that they work and receive their regular wage. Furthermore, 22.2 million workers do not receive any paid vacation at their job.

Not surprisingly enough, the United States just so happens to stand alone in not requiring any paid days off for its workers. In an article written by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, they state: “A statute of the European Union guarantees workers in member nations at least four weeks of paid leave. Workers in most countries in the European Union actually get considerably more leave than this minimum. For example, national laws in Austria, Denmark, France and Spain all guarantee their workers at least 30 days of paid time off. The rest of the industrialized world has sought to ensure some amount of leisure for their workers, with shorter workweeks and longer vacations.”

The chart shown below demonstrates the Center for Economic and Policy Research’s point in that the United States has actually gone in the opposite direction of other developed countries. Americans, on average, now work more hours than in any other industrialized nation.

Paid Vaca and Holidays

This issue, like so many others, is a catch-22. There are those among us who need and want to work on holidays, and there are those who do not. Similar to issues like minimum wage and paycheck unfairness, paid holidays and paid vacation time is something that the United Stated will have to keep improving upon in order for all of us workers to feel celebrated or for all of us to be able to celebrate Labor Day the way in which we choose.

Written by: Melanie Scherr