A simple and basic right that’s still denied to far too many American workers

A simple and basic right that’s still denied to far too many American workers

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Time off from work shouldn’t be impossible, but for too many of us, it is.

On Labor Day, everybody in North Carolina who counts on a paycheck should have time for leisure and to recognize and honor the power and purpose of working people united in unions.

The labor movement in North Carolina, and across the country, has always been concerned with the tension between work and time off. Work is a core North Carolina value, but what we do for a living should have a purpose, too. It should allow all of us to live good lives, provide for our families and, yes, earn some time off to enjoy a BBQ or an outing with family or friends.

These days, work and time-off are badly out of balance. For too many of us, especially low-wage workers, Labor Day is just another workday.

This year, America’s labor movement dug into the issue of paid time off with the help of a national polling firm called Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research, which surveyed 1,000 workers from coast to coast on the availability of paid leave. We found a nation overcome by work, as corporations demand more of us and leave us with less freedom to get away.

The single best way for working people to win paid time off is by negotiating for it in a union. About 84 percent of union workers earn paid time off, compared to only 68 percent of non-union workers.

The poorer you are, the less time you have. The Economic Policy Institute found that only 40 percent of workers who earn wages in the bottom 10th percentile have paid time off and paid vacations, compared to over 92 percent of workers with wages in the top 10th percentile.

Yet even people with paid vacations and holidays off are working more than ever: 54 percent of everyone surveyed reported working more holidays, 63 percent reported taking fewer vacation days, and 43 percent reported bringing work home at least one night a week.

Americans are among the hardest working people in the world, yet our pay has flat-lined for decades as the richest have taken away all the added wealth created by our rising productivity.

The members of the North Carolina State AFL-CIO are intent on addressing this lack of balance in our lives. We want more workers to have the freedom to negotiate together for better pay and benefits—including paid leave, overtime pay for holidays worked, and paid time to care for ourselves or family members.

In our national survey, we found that 54 percent of workers without the benefit of union membership would vote to join a union tomorrow if given the opportunity. And 72 percent understand how unions are responsible for helping workers get benefits like the Labor Day holiday and other paid time off.

In America, where we cherish freedom, all workers in North Carolina should have the freedom to join a union and the freedom to spend time with their families. Paid leave should be the rule, not the exception for working people in our state.

MaryBe McMillan is the secretary-treasurer of the North Carolina State AFL-CIO, the state’s largest labor federation.