CBS Touts Grayson’s Push for Legally Mandated Paid Vacation, Looks to Europe for Guidance

On CBS's Sunday Morning show, correspondent Jim Axelrod filed a report touting the movement in America to make it the law of the land that some employers must provide paid vacation to their employees, even giving controversial Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson - known for making vicious attacks against conservatives – a chance to plug his proposal to make paid vacation, which the Florida Democrat called a "right," legally mandated:

Alan Grayson is adamant that vacation is a right. In fact, he wants to make it a law. ... Grayson wants to guarantee at least one week of paid vacation for every worker at a company with 100 or more employees. He says it will lead to greater productivity from well rested and healthier workers.

Touted as the show’s "cover story" by host Charles Osgood, the segment was teased:

JIM AXELROD: Of the 33 richest countries, the United States is the only one that does not require paid vacation time for workers. One in four American workers, no paid vacation?

JOHN SCHMIDT, ECONOMIST AND AUTHOR OF NO VACATION NATION: That's right. And we don't have any law that would require any employer to do that.

Axelford began the report by allowing Schmidt to make his case that Americans need to have more vacation days, and then turned to Grayson’s legislative efforts. A soundbite of the Democratic Congressman warned: "What we're seeing more and more is that all work and no play makes Jack a dead boy."

After hearing from government officials from Germany, Denmark and Switzerland who argued in favor of legally mandated vacation time, Axelrod seemed to acknowledge that "weaker unions" and "less regulation" in America have led to higher economic growth rates and salaries compared to Europe, but he concluded that the European system is still worth it: "The U.S. economy with weaker unions than Europe and less regulation has higher growth rates and pays higher salaries. But European workers consistently rate themselves more satisfied with the balance in their lives."

Below is a complete transcript of the report from the May 30 CBS Sunday Morning:

CHARLES OSGOOD: Good morning. I'm Charles Osgood and this is Sunday Morning. It's Memorial Day weekend, time to honor all who have sacrificed in the service of our country. And we will be paying our respects throughout the morning. Memorial Day also marks the unofficial start of summer and the joys of summer vacation – joys restricted, of course, to those who actually get a vacation. For millions of other Americans, summer is just another season of all-work and no play as Jim Axelrod will be reporting in our cover story.

JIM AXELROD: It's Memorial Day weekend and time to make vacation plans. Well, if you're lucky. Because, of the 33 richest countries, the United States is the only one that does not require paid vacation time for workers. One in four American workers, no paid vacation?

JOHN SCHMIDT, ECONOMIST AND AUTHOR OF NO VACATION NATION: That's right. And we don't have any law that would require any employer to do that.

AXELROD: No vacation nation. Coming up.

...

OSGOOD: There’s no time for lazing in a hammock for those who live in an all-work, no-play, world. Just who lives in such a nonstop busy land? Many of us, it turns out. Our cover story is reported now by Jim Axelrod.

AXELROD: This Memorial Day weekend, our unofficial start to summer. Many Americans will look ahead to the next couple of months and their vacation plans. But not as many as you might think. One in four American workers, no paid vacation?

SCHMIDT: That's right. One in four American workers don't have paid vacation provided by their employer, and we don't have any law that would require any employer to do that.

AXELROD: John Schmidt, an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, is the author of "no vacation nation," a study detailing one unique feature of our economic system that's not the envy of the rest of the world. Out of the 33 richest countries, the U.S. is the only one with no legally required paid vacation for its workers.

SCHMIDT: If you look at all of the other rich countries that have about the same standard of living that we have, it's pretty standard to have 20 or 25 days of paid vacation per year.

AXELROD: England?

SCHMIDT: Twenty.

AXELROD: France?

SCHMIDT: Thirty.

AXELROD: Germany?

SCHMIDT: Twenty-two.

AXELROD: Italy?

SCHMIDT: I think it's 22 or 23.

AXELROD: And I could keep going?

SCHMIDT: Yes, exactly.

AXELROD: And the United States is the only country to have 0?

SCHMIDT: Yes, that's right.

AXELROD: The average American has just nine days of vacation a year. One 2009 survey shows just 10 percent of us will take a full two weeks off. And as for part-time workers, only a third get any paid time off from their employers. John Schmidt says we have a tortured relationship with vacation in the best of times, and the recession has only made it worse. Even when times are good, people don't take their vacation. They don't want to be seen as that guy who’s always taking his time off, who values his time off more than being at work. Being in a recession simply makes it worse.

SCHMIDT: Yeah, it completely intensifies the pressure on workers to buckle down and work as hard as they possibly can so that if the boss has to make a decision about letting 10 percent of people go that you're not on that list.

AXELROD: You could blame the Puritan work ethic, although in Great Britain where the Puritan work ethic got started, workers are guaranteed 20 days off.

PROF. STEVEN KYLE, CORNELL UNIVERSITY: There's no question we're different, but it's because we choose to be, not because we can't afford to be. We are as rich as the Europeans are. We would be a little less rich in material terms if we took more time off as a nation. But we would be, some of us at least, happier to do that.

AXELROD: Cornell University Economics Professor Steven Kyle says it all comes down to a society's position on vacation. Is vacation a perk? Or is it something that is an essential like good health care, a good job, enough vacation to be healthy and regenerate?

KYLE: Well, I don't think it's a perk personally. I have to ask myself, and I have a very good job that I love. But what are we doing this for – our jobs – if not to have a life, and have a good life?

REP. ALAN GRAYSON (D-FL): You need time off to recharge the batteries and to make yourself happy.

AXELROD: Alan Grayson is adamant that vacation is a right. In fact, he wants to make it a law.

GRAYSON: Sixty-nine percent of all middle class Americans say that their number one desire in life is more free time. And I think it's doable. I think we can-

AXELROD: Which he's in a better position to do than most since he's a Congressman, a freshman Democrat – from Orlando, of course, often called the vacation capital of the world.

GRAYSON: We lead the world in science. We lead the world in innovation. I don't think we need to lead the world in people who can't take a vacation.

AXELROD: Grayson wants to guarantee at least one week of paid vacation for every worker at a company with 100 or more employees. He says it will lead to greater productivity from well rested and healthier workers.

GRAYSON: We're talking initially about only one week off which is only a quarter of what every European worker gets. I mean, the old saying is all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. What we're seeing more and more is that all work and no play makes Jack a dead boy.

AXELROD: Of course, this might not be the best week to point to the ways Europeans run their economies as an example. With Greece near insolvency, Spain also teetering, and the rest of Europe shaken, everything is now on the table as far as easing economic pressures there. Well, everything but vacation.

HORST FREITAG, GERMAN CONSUL GENERAL: Why is that so? It is because the employers feel that they benefit from that law, primarily because they also feel that it has positive effects on the productivity.

AXELROD; Horst Freitag is Germany's consul general here in New York.

FREITAG: Now we had a lot of reforms just recently regarding our working force, etc., fringe benefits, unemployment protection and what have you. Nobody, neither the legislative nor the unions, the employers, nobody touched the vacation.

AXELROD: We sat down with Freitag, Sabine Ulman, the deputy consul from Switzerland and Torbin Getterman, Denmark's consul general. All three countries have had national vacation laws on the books for decades. Five weeks I think in Denmark, right?

TORBIN GETTERMAN, DANISH CONSUL GENERAL: Correct, correct. Mandatory.

AXELROD: Mandatory.

GETTERMAN: Yes.

AXELROD: We're talking about everybody from factory worker to high-priced lawyers.

GETTERMAN: Yes, and it's mandatory.

AXELROD: Denmark's unemployment rate, by the way, is three points lower than ours at the moment. And as for vacation policy in Switzerland:

SABINE ULMAN, SWISS DEPUTY CONSUL: I think the first paid vacation came in 1937, and it was in the watch maker industry to give people possibility not to be overexhausted, not overworked, and to give the opportunity of feeling more relaxed and more comfortable.

AXELROD: Wait a minute. You're not worried when you take your vacation that the guy at the next desk is going to get ahead of you while you're gone?

FREITAG: That's the point of it. If I’d be worried about that, you probably wouldn't take a vacation, but that's why it's legally, it’s in the law, it's in the book.

AXELROD: The U.S. economy with weaker unions than Europe and less regulation has higher growth rates and pays higher salaries. But European workers consistently rate themselves more satisfied with the balance in their lives. I have a feeling if I were to run that idea by some members of the business community in the United States, they might say, "You know what? That sounds like a European idea, the balance." You laugh.

GETTERMAN: Yeah, I mean, we think it's a good idea. It's a good foundation for creating a society where you have respect for, let's say, both family life and the working life.

AXELROD: Some food for thought to throw on the grill this Memorial Day weekend when you might already be feeling like you won't get nearly enough time off this summer. The rest of the world has a very different recipe when it comes to vacation.

FREITAG: You can't always attach a price tag to something. There are some things in life that you can't pin down in dollars and cents.

SCHMIDT: The bottom line is, you know, in Europe people have smaller cars but much bigger vacations. And in the United States, we have bigger cars but much smaller vacations.