Vacationing like Congress
Contacting my British editor, I wasn’t surprised to read: “I am away on annual leave till… If your query is urgent, contact… Otherwise, I will reply to your message as soon as possible on my return.”
With August ahead, vacation time is on our mind!
It seems that the US “is the only advanced economy that does not require employers to provide paid vacation” (Forbes 8/13/13) We have ten national holidays for which government and most other employees get paid, but this excludes the millions of Americans who are self-employed or work only part-time. Legally speaking, we aren’t entitled to a vacation.
Perhaps we should ask instead, in the age of smartphones, what it even means to take a vacation, paid or not? If 81% of vacationing travelers say that “their smart-phone is their number one travel accessory” (FoxBusiness 7/8/16), then are they on vacation at all? And how soon do vacationers get anxious about their work or home?
As the Center for Economic and Policy Research reports, “European countries lead the world in guaranteeing paid leave for [their] workers.” The average European worker is entitled to between 30 and 34 working days, so paid vacations may last almost two months. (TheWorldPost 8/6/13) By contrast, “The average American worker gets 16 days of combined vacation and holiday time per year.” (Scott Bomboy 8/2/13) And even those who accrue more vacation time use, on average, only 16 of 18 days.
If you have any inclination to feel sorry for Senators whose “summer recess” has been shortened, think again. Admittedly, the word recess has the wonderful connotation of school children enjoying a brief reprieve from the routine demands of their teachers, but how should it apply to Congress?
In an average year, the House of Representatives is in session 138 days, while the Senate convenes for 162 (Tom Murse 2017). Add to this a generous benefits package (from platinum health-care coverage, travel allowances, and lifetime pensions), and the word “recess” should probably be changed to vacation.
Even if we agree that these politicians deserve a European (rather than American) vacation from the Capitol, won’t they argue that their time off isn’t really vacation? Don’t they meet their constituents in town-hall meetings to gauge their concerns and explain policies or work hard to raise funds for their re-election? Consider the following.
Colorado’s Republican Senator, Cory Gardner, has refused to show up at town-hall meetings, either unable to defend his party’s policies or too timid to face his constituents (Denver Post 3/1/17). And Colorado’s Democratic Senator, Michael Bennett, is no better: he had his first town-hall meeting in two years on March 16, 2017 (Westword 3/14/17).
As for writing bills, lobbyists have been generous enough to offer full drafts of proposed legislation, most of which are voted on with minor, if any, revisions (NPR 11/11/13).
And raising funds for re-election? “Congress has 11% approval ratings but 96% incumbent reelection rate” (Politifact 11/11/14). The threat of competition is negligent. When money is raised, it’s usually at luxury resorts and restaurants, where the moneyed class entertains; sounds like vacation.
Compare congressional entitlements (a nasty liberal word, as conservatives remind us) with those of K-12 teachers. CS District 11 expects 207 “work days” per year. With base starting salary of $32,206 for 186 teaching days, one wonders how this stacks against congressional average salaries of $174,000 for less working days.
When I joined UCCS, I was told three things about my meager salary and benefit package: one, part of your compensation is the beautiful scenery of the Rocky Mountains; two, your compensation only covers nine of twelve months, so the actual annual rate is much higher; and three, you can make extra money in the summer.
The most important argument, though, was missing: “vacation time” is for research, and with plenty of (uncompensated) time, you may achieve the goals of your professed vocation. This sense of public service remains at the heart of professors and K-12 teachers, but may have eluded our congressional members who better relate to their wealthy donors for whom vacation is understood on a whole different level.
Even the task-master and assembly-line inventor, Henry Ford, recognized that reducing the work-week from six to five days (from 48 to 40 hours), increased productivity. Wrong motive, but additional rest time for workers. As Derek Thompson reminds us, “Just as small breaks improve concentration, long breaks replenish job performance.” (Atlantic 8/6/12)
If the French worker, “who takes more than twice the vacation time,” probably got it right, and if Congress agrees with Ford and the French that we all deserve vacations, shouldn’t everyone be paid to enjoy summer vacations, no matter what they do?
Raphael Sassower is professor of philosophy at UCCS. He can be reached at email@example.com See previous articles at sassower.blogspot.com