Easter Sunday marks one of the most important days in the Christian year, and on Friday approximately 250 million (75% of the U.S. population) celebrated Good Friday with their families. But, only 14 states in America declared Good Friday an official state and local holiday; everyone else had work work on their mind and were at the mercy of their employers.
This is just one more example of a bigger problem in the U.S. As the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) reports, ‘the United States is the only advanced economy that does not guarantee its workers any paid vacation or holidays’. Many Americans are overworked, stressed, and even suffering from diseases as a result (one of the biggest being obesity). Don't Americans deserve more peace, happiness, and relaxation in their lives?
The facts are: The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require employers to pay employees for time not worked, such as vacations or holidays: “Paid holidays, paid vacation, and paid sick leave are determined by the employer, or in a represented workplace, by the employee's representative, often a union, in negotiation with an employer.” Compare this to Germany, for example, where the government grants employees 24 paid days off from work, or France, where people receive 30 paid days paid off, and the situation in the U.S. looks very bad.
But what is most curious, according to a 2011 Expedia survey, is that the average employee in America earns 14 days off per year from the company, but takes only 12 of them. How is this possible? Is this a sign that Americans don’t want to rest?
America has boasted a work ethic, and has waged a cultural war on sloth, since the founding of the country. Early rules and regulations based on the protestant work ethic brought to North America by the Pilgrims in the early 1600s, along with the country's belief in free-market capitalism, have carried over to present day.
The U.S. has long been obsessed with the belief in progress, pragmatism, self-confidence, and a tendency to self-improvement as a part of individual success. This ethic propelled the industrial revolution and the country's advancement toward modernity, but also of a rat race of consumption for show. Most of U.S. society doesn’t feel they need more rest, because if they work more, they believe they will have more satisfaction, money, and happiness. For Americans, Europeans who have a lot of time free time and established work week limits seem to be lazy.
Another factor driving this trend is the weakness of labor unions in the U.S. As Sebastian Doggart points out, U.S. "labor unions have far less power to protect workers’ than in Europe. Their influence has been eroding since the 1968 collapse of the New Deal coalition. Union membership then began a steady decline, as did their public support. The Reagan administration made it harder for new unions to be formed, and Republicans have continued that sacred mission ever since." Today, labor unions have never been weaker, with decreasing membership and little public support.
There is an unequal fight between companies which enjoy their advantage over their workers, and employees with weak protection from the government and labor unions. Many Americans are afraid of taking day off even if they are sick. The fear of losing their jobs is very common, especially during the current crisis when unemployment has risen dramatically.
What's clear is that Americans deserve more free time in their lives as a nation addicted to work, but it is impossible for them to get it if the government and labor unions won’t fight for this.