(The first in a series highlighting U.S. Movements to celebrate, support, and spread the word about.)
Americans, along with Australians and Japanese, lead the industrialized world when it comes to the number of hours we log on the job. We work a full nine weeks more per year than most Western Europeans. And we’re guaranteed no paid sick, vacation, or family leave through the law. American workers have made large jumps in productivity in the last forty years, but our increased productivity has not translated into more leisure time for us. We’re toiling about five weeks more per year than American workers did in 1970.
With so many Americans out of work today, it may seem weird to talk about the issue of overwork. However, the two problems are related. The more hours individuals work, the fewer jobs are available, which is why companies nationwide are instituting voluntary or mandatory furloughs and reducing employees’ work schedules to avoid layoffs. As strange as it seems, with company’s closing, mass layoffs, and sky-high unemployment rates, we may actually start hearing more about overwork. In 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, a thirty-hour workweek passed the Senate. (The Roosevelt Administration withdrew its support, and the bill didn’t make it through the House).
The folks at Take Back Your Time (TBYT), a broad, non-partisan coalition, have been sounding the alarm on American “time-poverty” for years. They contend that overwork and “time-stress” have detrimental effects on our:
- spiritual growth
Their six part Time to Care Public Policy Agenda fights for:
1. Guaranteed paid leave for all parents for the birth or adoption of a child.
Currently the U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act only allows 12 weeks of unpaid leave if you work at a company that employs more than fifty employees. Between 2001 and 2003, only 28% of pregnant women actually took maternity leave.
Why is paid family leave important?
Time off from work before and after a baby’s birth helps strengthen families and has broad societal and health-care-related effects. Consider the findings from two studies conducted by Sylvia Guendelman (University of California Berkeley) :
- Women who took leave in the ninth month of pregnancy were 73% less likely to have a Caesarean section than those who worked up to delivery. Caesarean deliveries are associated with longer hospital stays, risks of surgical complications, and longer recovery times for mothers. (Women’s Health Issues, January/February 2009)
- Women who returned to work shortly after delivery were significantly less likely to establish breastfeeding within the first month. Breastfeeding is associated with numerous health benefits for babies and mothers. (Pediatrics, January 2009)
The World Health Organization has this to say about the importance of Family Leave:
A pregnant woman should have a reduced physical work load and no night work during the second half of pregnancy.
A pregnant woman should have complete absence from work from week 34 to 36 depending on her health status and physical workload.
Women need at least 16 weeks absence from work after delivery.
Breastfeeding is a major determinant of infant health. Infants should be exclusively breastfed on demand from birth for at least 4 and, if possible, 6 months of age and should continue to be breastfed together with adequate complementary food until the age of 2 years or beyond.
How does the U.S. compare to the rest of the world? Here’s a sampling of parental leave benefits in other countries:
- Sweden – 16 months with 80% of pay
- Lithuania – 52 weeks with 100% of pay
- Spain – 16 weeks with 100% of pay
- Poland – 16-18 weeks with 100% of pay
- Canada – 50 weeks with 55% of pay
- Algeria – 14 weeks with 100% of pay
2. One week of guaranteed paid sick leave for all American workers.
Americans currently have zero days of sick leave guaranteed through the law. The implications of this has been in the news recently with the threat of a flu pandemic.
3. At least three weeks paid annual vacation leave for all American workers.
More than 147 countries mandate paid vacation. The United States is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t .
Are vacations important? Consider these findings:
- Over 12,000 men were enrolled in a heart health study (Psychosomatic Medicine,2000) and followed over nine years. The men who took vacations most years were 20 percent less likely to die of any cause and 30 percent less likely to die of heart disease than those who forewent regular vacations.
- In the Wisconsin Women’s Rural Health Study, women who took vacations frequently were less likely to become tense, depressed, or tired, and were more satisfied with their marriages.
4. A limit on the amount of compulsory overtime work an employer can impose.
Currently the Fair Labor Standards Act provides no protection for workers 16 and older who do not wish to work mandatory overtime. Adult workers who refuse overtime are subject to employer discipline and discharge.
5. Making Election Day a holiday.
- Australia – 95%
- Italy – 90%
- Germany – 86%
- Brazil – 83%
- Canada – 76%
- Britain – 76%
- Japan – 71%
Why are Americans so lackadaisical when it comes to democracy? In a survey conducted by the California Voter Foundation, 28 percent of infrequent voters and 23 percent of unregistered voters said they don’t vote or don’t register because they’re too busy. It can’t help that voting day is on a Tuesday, when the majority of us have to work.
If making Election Day a national holiday seems too bold, we could simply move election day to a Saturday, or as Martin P. Wattenberg proposed in a 1998 Atlantic Monthly piece, move it to the second Tuesday in November, combine it with Veterans’ Day, and call it Veterans’ Democracy Day.
6. Making it easier for Americans to choose part-time work, including hourly wage parity and protection of promotions and pro-rated benefits for part-time workers.
Part-time work equality benefits families. 60% of working moms say they’d prefer part-time work.
The European Community implemented a directive on part-time work to “end less favourable treatment of part-timers in order to support the development of a flexible labour market, by encouraging the greater availability of part-time employment, and increasing the quality and range of jobs which are considered suitable for part-time work or job-sharing.”
You can learn more or become a member of Take Back Your Time at www.timeday.org.
Are you a fan or member of a movement fighting for social, cultural, or environmental change? Leave a comment! Your movement could be highlighted in a future New Urban Habitat article.