Moving on to other business so to speak, I might ask, How was your last vacation from your job? Did you enjoy the one-week, or that two-week, or, if you put in the requisite 10 or 20 years of service, that three-week vacation? The latter probably doesn’t apply to most of you, because you would have been subject, somewhere along the line, to a corporate mass termination before you ever got to that point, which happens on a regular basis whenever there is a slight downturn in the overall economy or in a particular corporation’s financial performance.
It absolutely amazes me that most Americans have to work 50 weeks a year to earn two weeks of vacation. Your life is your job, and your employer reminds you of that all the time with the stinginess of its leave policies.
Personally, where I work, I receive 27 days of annual leave (vacation) and 15 days of sick leave per year. Let me tell you, it’s wonderful. If you get the time off I do, you can make it through because you have the opportunity to enjoy life outside of work. But an American company will never let you enjoy that sense of fulfillment because most are too tight to consider your life outside of work, to consider that by allowing you to regenerate your batteries and be away from the stress of work that you might actually become a more productive and content employee.
Why is that the status quo? Only because it’s the status quo. It’s just part of American corporate and social culture. Companies set the basic policies long ago, and those policies have only changed in fits and starts from social, government, and labor union pressure, and not because of corporate largess. The bottom line, even today, is that basically your employer is saying that we don’t care about you, we don’t care whether you like it, and you can accept it or leave.
A lot of companies these days try to entice you with something called paid personal leave. Basically, the concept is to add more days to your paid leave, and you have the option of using the days for annual leave or sick leave. So, if you really get sick and have to use all or the majority of your leave for that purpose, you can consequently count on little or no paid vacation for that particular year. Instead, you can spend your entire year either at work or being sick. Quite a scam!
What’s the outcome? The outcome is a lot of people avoiding sick leave at any cost. So, they come to work, sick or not, and the company benefits because it has workers at work. The downside of course is not only that people are being forced to work when they shouldn’t be but even worse those sick workers are potentially infecting other workers around them, creating a situation where the company ultimately loses more worker sick days than they would have had it simply had let a sick worker take the sick leave she or he should be entitled to.
Other than for federal workers, in the US there is no federal law that requires employers to give paid time off, for sick leave, vacation, or even holidays. A whopping 41% of those workers with incomes below the federal poverty level receive no paid time off of any kind. Even 17% of white-collar private workers get no paid vacation. But, in that regard, we are pretty much alone in the industrialized world.
Among the world’s 15 most competitive countries, by law, 14 provide sick leave, 14 provide paid annual leave, 13 guarantee a weekly day of rest, and 13 provide paid leave for new mothers and 12 for new fathers, according to the organization Raising the Global Floor. You can guess who the odd man out is in most cases.
US employment laws offer no paid annual leave, no paid sick leave, no paid leave for attending to children’s health needs, no paid leave for absolutely anything.
Opponents of legally guaranteeing these types of benefits to US workers argue that such policies would cost jobs and create a financial burden on US companies.
Could this be an absolute truth? A study on this subject undertaken by McGill University and Harvard University on 15 of the world’s most competitive economies found that “none of these policies in any way impede being highly competitive or having low unemployment.” Look at Germany, one of those 15 countries studied, as an example. German workers can receive four or more weeks of annual leave, 26 weeks of sick leave, and 52 or more weeks for new mothers. And Germany is an absolute economic powerhouse! There are plenty of such countries, that, as nations, actually value workers as human beings rather than just as cogs in the all-mighty industrial machine.
In the meantime, you can feel good in the fact that according to statistics, the US worker is the most or one of the most productive in the world. I guess that is the inevitable outcome of long working hours and little time off in a highly technical, highly industrialized society. Feel good in the fact that while you suffer your company prospers.
And prosper they do. Take the example of General Electric. The company’s profits rose 77% in the first quarter of 2011, much of it coming from GE Capital. This is the same arm of the corporation that received a massive government bailout during the financial crisis in order to have itself saved and the same corporation that, according to some reports, paid no US corporate tax in 2010.
US multinationals like GE bring up the question of what these companies take and receive from us as a country. They have tremendous influence, through their lobbying efforts, on US policy, on the tax code, the environment, and a myriad of other issues. They also expect to have the full support of the US government and its military should they ever run into trouble with their overseas operations.
At the same time, they don’t seem to be very enlightened or contribute much to helping the government’s economic strategy through actively working with the government to improve the country’s infrastructure base, the quality of education, or the quality of life of US workers. In fact, they generally take the low road to economic strategy, basically focusing on one thing only, and that one thing is the reduction of their costs in doing business.
The main method for cutting these costs is through reducing the cost of labor. US Commerce Department statistics show that during the decade of the 2000s, big US multinationals cut their US workforces by 2.9 million jobs while creating 2.4 million jobs overseas. Don’t get me wrong – I am no socialist opposed to all the good and economic prosperity that capitalism and the advent of these large multinational corporations have brought to the US and the world at large. I just wish and hope that these companies would recognize that their good fortune should come at a price, and that price is giving back to the country, the system, and most importantly the people who have allowed them to prosper. Exporting jobs in order to shore up the bottom line and the stock price is no way to do so.
Really, is it any wonder that employees in the US have no loyalty to employers and change jobs so frequently? Who can blame them? Unfortunately, most would have to look long and hard to find a new employer that actually values them as a person, although there are a few such employers out there and we can only hope that their numbers increase. Rock on, Occupy Wall Street!