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Fulton Files

Working For One Percent



Ah, Labor Day. A time to remember union forbearers who fought for the 40-hour work week. But is that sort of nostalgia even warranted? Now that the day has past, let’s reconsider:

& ull; One of the fastest growing areas of civil litigation involves class-action lawsuits by salaried white-collar workers suing for unpaid overtime. Almost four thousand suits were filed last year, double the number of the previous year, according to the U.S. Labor Department. One example: Last year Radio Shack paid $30 million to settle such a suit by store managers who argued they weren’t being fairly compensated.

& ull; The Journal of Occupational and Environment Medicine estimates that overworked, overstressed employees cost businesses 50 percent more in health costs. Meanwhile, the American Institute of Stress noted that homicide—you know, “disgruntled” workers with guns—is the second leading cause of death in the workplace. On average, 20 workers in America meet just such a fate every week.

& ull; Americans now work just as many hours, or more, per year than the Japanese. Last year the typical U.S. worker toiled 480 hours more than the average worker in Norway, Belgium or France. The average German works 37 hours, or even less, per week. The average American works a 44-hour week. That’s not the worst of it ...

& ull; Americans get a miserly average of 16 vacation days per year (a lot more than that, if you work for the public sector), while the average European gets a whopping 30 vacation days. In Europe, vacation time is treated as an ironclad birthright. The United States has no law—not one—mandating worker vacation time. That’s still not the worst of it. ...

& ull; Lest you think Europeans pay for all that luscious time off with a higher rate of unemployment, think again. While countries such as Germany suffer an unemployment rate of just above 10 percent, many economists believe the real rate of unemployment in America isn’t much better. A June 19 article this year in Money magazine noted that, if we count into federal figures the 4.7 million unemployed Americans who stopped looking for work a long time ago, America’s true unemployment rate would climb to 9.1 percent. If we count also the nearly one in 20 Americans currently incarcerated, the nation’s true unemployment figure would probably scrape just shy of 10 percent. And, no, we’re still not through. ...

& ull; While the people of Norway, France and Belgium work far less hours than the average American, they’re far and away more productive. The United Nation’s International Labor Office found that Norway’s productivity measure of output per worker rated $38. The French productivity measure of output per worker rated $35, and the people of Belgium rated $34. Americans still produced a lot per worker, but at $32 we still couldn’t beat the Europeans, who were no doubt rested, rejuvenated and more alert on the job given their generous, nationally mandated, vacation packages.

& ull; It must be admitted that we have one ace in our pocket: The same U.N. study found that while European productivity growth over seven years up to 2002 clocked in at 1.2 percent, the United States managed to squeeze out one more percentage point at 2.2 percent. Pat yourself on the back, and ask the boss for a vacation.

BEN FULTONbfulton@slweekly.com