Quick-Takes: Holiday Compensation

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) is going to introduce a bill in the California legislature to mandate double pay for employees on major holidays.

Making Double Pay the Norm Will Revitalize Economy and Labor Market

Not everyone has a choice about whether they work over Christmas and Thanksgiving. Those who care for young families or other relatives are often given special consideration and allowed to take those days off, and rightly so.

Shops that open on Christmas and Thanksgiving only do so because they think they will make a profit, and it’s not as if the CEO of Walmart is the one who will have to work over the holiday, so it is only fair that those who do have to work should be properly remunerated.

Membership of labor unions in America has declined by almost 50 percent in the last 30 years, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics — a change precipitated by decades of governmental marginalization. Legislation such as that proposed by California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez is the only means by which workers’ rights will be promoted. In 2010, the richest 20 percent of Americans represented 88.9 percent of the net wealth in the country, according to the economist Edward Wolff at New York University, and thus the other 80 percent of the people represent the remaining 11.1 percent of the wealth. It is not socialism to suggest that those in the former category should bestow upon some of those in the latter twice their usual (often quite low) pay for two days of the year.

There will be those who say that such a bill is merely another regrettable political encroachment into the private sector, where it has no right to be. Those who espouse such views fundamentally misunderstand the role of government; it is the politician’s job to represent the people who gave them their mandate to lead and to protect that electorate from the will of those they could not otherwise influence — in this case, corporations.

— Sam Thoburn Contributing Writer 

Commercialization of Holidays Is Another Step in the Wrong Direction

Assemblywoman Gonzalez‘s heart is in the right place by trying to compensate labor for working on Thanksgiving and Christmas, but this assumes that more money is a fulfilling substitute for time lost with family and friends. This will only encourage the grotesque materialism that overshadows the spirit of the holidays.

Instead, California should look to the Northeast for advice: Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island are the only three states that prohibit businesses from opening on Thanksgiving and Christmas. This practice of limiting commerce on certain holidays is reminiscent of a time when blue laws, restrictions meant to preserve religious observance, could be found on the books of every state. Ironically, according to a 2012 Gallup poll, the above three states have some of the highest rates of irreligion in the nation, showing that blue laws can have a secular basis.

But even so, a religious argument is easy to make, at least for Christmas day, especially for a developed country with both a 79-percent Christian population and over 55 percent of Americans citing religion as playing an important role in life, according to figures found from a 2007 Pew Research Center survey and a 2013 Gallup poll respectively. These numbers are far higher than most other wealthy nations that have supposedly lost their faith alongside economic development. Even Scrooge gave Cratchit the day off out of respect for the custom.

All in all, it doesn’t hurt to close businesses for two out of the 365 days of the year. The average American worker spends 10.3 years of his or her life working anyway. People need to relax. Material possessions will always be there to purchase later, but family and friends don’t last forever.

 

— Jordan Utley-Thomson Staff Writer  

Leave Laws Alone, Let Businesses Decide How to Compensate Workers

Gonzalez’s plan to double employee compensation on holidays might seem like it was formulated with good intentions, but it is bound to have negative connotations for employees that don’t already work on these days.

Currently, most workers have the choice to work hours on major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. There is already appropriate compensation for employees who work on holidays, as most businesses that remain open offer their staff time-and-a-half pay, similar to most industries’ overtime compensation. There is a sufficient incentive for workers who either don’t have familial obligations, don’t celebrate these traditionally WASP-y holidays or are simply choosing to work. Increasing the time-and-a-half pay to double would tip the scales, forcing workers who wanted to take the holidays off to re-consider in the face of a significant financial incentive and being left at a complete disadvantage.

Retail aside, self-employed people and other service industries must be taken into account too. For example, what about airline pilots and attendants who work on Thanksgiving and Christmas? If this law mandates doubling their pay on these days, the cost of plane travel will also inevitably increase, not to mention other industries like hospitality, medicine and public safety workers like police and firefighters. The plan is simply not feasible for all these groups.

The decision of how to compensate employees should remain in the hands of businesses who choose to remain open. Appropriate perks already exist at most businesses, and to try and force a higher pay grade on holidays would not only be a dangerous intrusion into the free market but is also unnecessary.

— CHARU MEHRA Opinion Editor