Economic Snapshot | Unions and Labor Standards

Unions guarantee more vacation

Economic Snapshot for August 12, 2009

Unions guarantee more vacation

by Tony Avirgan, Global Policy Network organizer

The United States has been called “the no-vacation nation.”1 In fact, it is alone among industrialized countries in having no statutory paid leave. European Union rules entitle all workers to a minimum of 20 paid days of leave per year, and many European countries do better than that.

In the United States, one out of four workers has no paid vacation or public holiday leave at all. Belonging to a union, however, is a clear advantage in this regard. The average non-unionized worker will work a lifetime and still never reach the European minimum amount of paid annual leave (see chart). A study of the entire workforce—adjusted for occupation, industry, and other factors—found that, after 25 years, union members receive 26.6% more vacation weeks than non-union workers.2

[Figure: Private-sector vacation days]

The Paid Vacation Act currently before Congress would be the first broadly applied U.S. vacation law. It would require firms with 100 employees or more to provide a week of paid vacation to workers with a minimum of one year of service.


1. Schmitt, John and Rebecca Ray. 2007. “No Vacation Nation.” Policy Brief No. 3-1007. Brussels, Belgium: European Trade Union Institute.

2. Mishel, Lawrence, Jared Bernstein, and Heidi Shierholz. 2009. The State of Working America 2008/2009. Table 3.33, p. 202. An Economic Policy Institute book. Ithaca, N.Y.: ILR Press, an imprint of Cornell University Press.