Union Rights and Benefits

Vacation leave benefits: MNA contracts lead the way

08.15.2010

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
July/August 2010 Edition

Joe TwarogBy Joe Twarog
Associate Director, Labor Education & Training

Everyone loves a vacation, and this is the time of year that we all try and take some well-deserved time off to relax and enjoy life. But it is important as union members to remember that these vacation benefits have often come after long and tough struggles with the employer. As with many other benefits in our labor contracts, there are no automatic guarantees to a vacation.

A 2007 Center for Economic and Policy Research study (“The No-Vacation Nation”) found that the United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation through any legal rights or government standards. It also found that “almost one in four Americans have no paid vacation and no paid holidays” and that “the average worker in the private sector in the U.S. receives only about nine days of paid vacation and about six paid holidays per year.”

Another 2009 study for the travel Web site expedia.com focused on the average number of vacation days that employed adults receive worldwide. It found the U.S. ranked 11th with 13 days. This was well behind France with 38 days, Italy – 31, Spain – 30, Germany and Austria – 27, Great Britain – 26, New Zealand – 21, Canada and Australia – 19, and Japan – 15.

A similar study by the New York Times had Germany with 30 vacation days, Japan with 18 and the U.S. with only 12. Finally, the World Tourism Organization finds that Americans average 13 vacation days a year, while Italy’s average is 42 days, France’s 37, Germany’s 35, Brazil’s 34, Britain’s 28, Canada’s 26, and South Korea’s and Japan’s 25.

The number of the days in these studies varies because it is often difficult to obtain accurate data from employers, and the sample base may differ from study to study. Nonetheless, it is clear from these analyses that the U.S. consistently lags far behind many major industrialized countries in the category of vacation benefits.

Taking a look closer to home here in Massachusetts, it is clear that MNA unionized facilities fair significantly better regarding vacation leave. A review of 10 of the MNA contracts finds that almost all new employees start earning three weeks (15 days) vacation – which is above the U.S. national average for total vacation regardless of years of service from the very start – which increases over time to six weeks (30 days) and seven weeks (35 days) paid vacation.

These are benefits that have been fought hard for over the years. Employers did not simply grant these to the RNs and health care professionals. The six and seven weeks may look overgenerous to some employers, yet it only begins to approach the average vacation amounts of a number of European and South American countries.

The non-union Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) has “work/ life benefits” for its employees. Its Web site includes this: “Mass General employees accrue earned time off based on years of service and standard hours. This bank of earned time is used for holidays, illness, vacation or personal days. New full-time employees earn up to 29 days annually (this is pro-rated for part-time employees). Mass General observes nine core holidays, which are taken out of employees’ earned time bank.” Boston Children’s Hospital has a similar earned-time plan with days off running from 30 for new employees to a maximum of 40. Other nonunion facilities, such as Baystate Medical Center, Holy Family Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center do not list their employee benefits packages with any specifics online.

A number of MNA contracts also have paid time off in the form of “earned time off”—which usually combines holidays, sick days, vacation and personal days in one account. But again, the unionized facilities do far better than MGH. The Boston Medical Center for instance has an earned time system. But the accrual rates run from 33 days for a new employee to 43 for an employee with 20 or more years of service, including 11 holidays. Newton-Wellesley Hospital has almost an identical accrual amount in its earned time plan with 10 holidays. These are significantly better than the non-union Mass General plan.

So, as we all enjoy our vacations this year, we should be mindful that union activists before us paved the way for such benefits and that our actions today will help continue to add to those benefits for the future.