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Jewish World Review July 3, 2003 / 3 Tamuz, 5763

Tom Purcell

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Consumer Reports

Overworked Americans | Where my summer vacation is concerned, I'm beginning to wish I was French, and also a Democrat.

Maybe I better explain.

Let's start with being French. The French, like all Europeans, enjoy long breaks away from their work. They go away with friends or family and get lost in deep, satisfying escapes from the humdrum of their jobs and daily lives, which don't appear to be very stressful in the first place.

Whereas Europeans enjoy up to six weeks off every year, Americans, after three years of working, are lucky to average 10 days of vacation. That's if you can call what we do vacationing. When we do take time off, we usually take it piecemeal; we take one day here, one day there, and we hardly ever enjoy an actual "break."

Even if we do take a week at the beach, for instance, we bring our computers, cell phones and Palm Pilots with us. We check our e-mail obsessively, dial into phone conferences and keep our noggin in real-time connection to the stresses and agitations of the workplace no matter where our bodies may be on holiday.

Even the least observant among us has to admit that our work habits have gone ballistic over the past decade. We're terrified of losing our jobs during a down economy, you see, so we work harder. We feel guilt if we're the first to leave the office or the only one who didn't work over the weekend - the only one not to work 60-plus hours a week.

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As a result, a "24/7" culture has evolved in which employees are accessible to their employers every moment of every day. Our habits are key contributor to productivity levels that are the envy of the world, though our productivity comes at the expense of our weekends, holidays and vacations.

That's why, where my vacation is concerned, I wish I was French. That's also why, during the summers months anyhow, I wish I was a Democrat.

It's true that Republicans have been outwitting the Democrats on most domestic and foreign policy issues of late. It's true that Democrats are floundering and in disarray. But a fellow named Joe Robinson may succeed in arming them with a juicy issue: our vacations.

Robinson recently published a book called "Work to Live: The Guide to Getting a Life." In the book, he tells the story of the "the growing marginalization of our personal, family, and civic lives… He looks at what is making us take work to extremes, and how we can get our lives back."

Robinson is also leading a grass roots effort to push for a minimum-leave law. America is the only industrialized country, you see, that does not legally mandate vacation time. Robinson's goal is to change the Fair Labor Standards Act to require three weeks of paid leave after one year of full time employment and four weeks after three years on the job.

And the fellow is beginning to get some footing. He got 50,000 signatures to show support for his campaign, and last May he met with two prominent Democrats, Rep. Henry Waxman and Sen. Ted Kennedy, to push his cause.

I'd be misleading if I didn't admit that part of Robinson's message resonates with me. While our European friends are basking in the sun and sipping refreshing drinks on their long government-mandated vacations, we're sitting inside sterile office buildings worrying about our jobs, projects, job security and that next promotion.

And when we go home late at night, our job worries stay right with us. As a result, we have less energy to go for an evening stroll in the park with our children, less time to enjoy a glass of lemonade while visiting our neighbors, and less desire to engage in our communities to support charities and other noble causes.

The fact is, America, too many of us are working too long and too hard and we are getting dull. While it's absurd to demand that our government burden our employers with additional laws so that we finally take our much-needed vacations, don't be surprised of Robinson's message gets some traction among the American people.

And what a masterstroke it was to approach Sen. Ted Kennedy as a potential sponsor. You hear his name and picture a plump fellow sipping on Highballs and napping the summer away on a Martha's Vinyard hammock, just as we all wish we could.

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04/26/02: Zacarias Moussaoui gets expert legal advice

© 2002, Tom Purcell