Left Unsaid on Labor Day

Sep 10, 2012

by Jodie Levin-Epstein

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

The summer of 1894 was filled with labor-management strife, and the congressional response included passage of a law that established Labor Day as a way to honor workers. Nearly 120 years later, Labor Day is a time of parades, picnics, and rest. Today, the assertion that "employees are the most important asset of a business" is an essential mantra of companies large and small. Yet, the Department of Labor recently released new data which indicate that workers are often treated more as cogs than as human capital. The data reveal that millions of workers are given zero paid time off by their employers. It is wholly up to individual employers whether their workers get paid time off for sick days, family leave, vacation, and personal days. That is because federal law leaves unsaid something vital to workers: it is silent on a minimum standard for earned leave by private sector workers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has issued new findings from the American Time Use Survey, known as ATUS. For the first time, ATUS included questions about paid and unpaid leave (and job flexibility) and got answers from workers themselves. The findings deserve to be paraded at shareholder meetings and on business pages in local newspapers. In the United States:

  • 39.7 percent of workers have no paid leave whatsoever
  • 27.5 percent of full-time workers have no paid leave
  • 71.7 percent of workers in leisure and hospitality have no paid leave


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