NY Daily News: Relaxing Today? Thousands Cannot.

For Americans lucky enough to have the day off, Labor Day is wonderful. It’s an extra day of vacation to celebrate summer’s end; a three-day weekend culminating in a meal sipping mimosas at a fancy restaurant.

For workers in some of the fastest-growing sectors of our economy, however, Labor Day is nothing but another day at work.

This Labor Day, look around, and you will notice a myriad of workers, all working hard to put together the restful and relaxing holiday weekend the rest of us get to enjoy.

Having spent a decade working in New York City’s hospitality industry, I know what it’s like to work on Labor Day. In fact, I know what it’s like to work all holidays, because the service industry maintains an expectation of full availability whenever business is open. This could mean working anything from a big holiday like Christmas to any of the smaller Monday holidays.

Many restaurants do allow workers to put in time-off requests, but there are no guarantees. As a general rule, if your boss wants you work, you have to work. I have personally spent many holidays working double shifts — often 10 to 14 hours — cringing as well-meaning customers tell me, “Enjoy your holiday weekend!”

Being told to have a good holiday while you are stuck at work doesn’t feel great, but it’s not the only issue. Labor Day, like similar holidays, can be slower than normal. This could mean having your hours cut short, losing a day of work, or, in the case of tipped workers, making less in tips than a regular shift.

And this is not just a problem in the restaurant industry. Employees in non-union and low-wage workplaces around the country have no holiday pay, no incentive pay on holidays, and little say over holiday scheduling. This is especially egregious on holidays like Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

At the restaurant, we’d often see customers streaming in with shopping bags, having taken advantage of end-of-summer deals. Retail workers make that possible, spending their holiday stocking shelves, preparing the sales floor and assisting shoppers.

Like restaurant workers, retail employees have little say in their schedule, and the industry is notorious for just-in-time scheduling, which means that a worker may potentially have the day off but must stay near the store or risk losing out on a day’s pay.

On the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where I worked for years, there was never a shortage of domestic workers accompanying affluent families to the restaurant. Nannies would watch over the children or make an appearance mid-meal if the kids became too rambunctious. Sometimes the nannies got to eat, sometimes not. In the worst cases, a family would request a separate check for the “help.”

Labor Day was originally promoted by members of a robust labor movement, but sadly, union membership has dropped to below 11%. It’s no wonder, then, that so many workers around the country will have little say in their work schedules or other conditions of employment.

It doesn’t have to be this way. States and cities — which are already playing a bigger role than ever in protecting workers — can lead the way in tackling this problem.

Following the example of Massachusetts, which requires time-and-a-half overtime pay for work on Sundays, they can require premium pay for workers who give up their holidays to work and serve those of us who are fortunate to have the time off.

Similarly, the fair-scheduling laws that New York City, Oregon and other cities and states are adopting should include fair systems for holiday scheduling, including allowing workers to decline to work holidays hours. And now that more than 30 states and cities are guaranteeing paid sick days, it’s time to expand these measures to include paid holidays and vacation days for all workers.

Whether or not we have this Labor Day off, we should support workers’ efforts to organize and stand together to improve their working conditions. That’s one of the best ways we can genuinely honor their hard work and contributions.

You can read the original op-ed in the Daily News.

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