Service Workers Deserve Higher Pay. They Also Desperately Need Some Vacation.

A blog about business and economics.
July 31 2014 1:12 PM

Service Workers Deserve Higher Pay. They Also Desperately Need Some Vacation.

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Part-time cashiers need vacation time, too.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In Europe, vacation time is treated as a human right. In the United States, we see it as a perk—employers aren’t legally required to give their workers paid time off for rest, even on national holidays. So just as we get income inequality, we get leisure inequality, which is illustrated nicely in a new Bureau of Labor Statistics report on which jobs come with vacation benefits. As Wonkblog’s Christopher Ingraham pointed out yesterday, “Managers are nearly twice as likely as service workers to get paid time off.”

vacation_graph_bls

I think numbers like these really speak to a bigger story about the mistreatment of part-time workers, who are of course concentrated in the service industry. Companies tend to treat their part-timers as cheap, on-call labor, adjusting workers’ schedules on the fly to meet customer demand. So management dislikes the idea of paid time off not only because it would cost money but because it would make it harder to phone up their staff at the last minute and haul them onto cashier duty. In the end, just 35 percent of part-time workers in the private sector get paid vacation, compared with 91 percent of full-timers, which, along with their erratic schedules, makes it even harder to control their time and lives.

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The lesson is that if the U.S. does one day join the rest of the developed world and mandate paid vacation days, we ought to make sure part-timers get it too—otherwise we’ll end up making them look even cheaper and easier to abuse in comparison with full-timers.

Jordan Weissmann is Slate's senior business and economics correspondent.

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