Open On Christmas

As I sit on the floor wrapping presents with a newborn on my lap and an excited 4-year-old bouncing around me, I see the commercials on tv promise “We are open on Christmas!” Wal-Mart reassures shoppers they will be open all day. Starbucks posts a sign: “Open on Christmas, stop by and tell us how you are celebrating.”

Well this is all very convenient… Unless of course you are a worker at one of these places. For these workers, Christmas Day won't be spent baking cookies, watching their kids open presents, or catching up with relatives. Instead, they will be ringing up frantic shoppers or making frappacinos while customers describe their own holiday plans.

The whole idea of working on Christmas makes me reflect on one of the fundamental principles the Labor Movement has fought for: “8 hours for work, 8 hours for rest, 8 hours for what we will.” That means more than just the preservation of the 8-hour day, a right California workers fought for and won in 1911 and which is constantly under attack. It means that everyone deserves a little time off to do the things that make life meaningful.

Today, in California, as good jobs disappear, millions of workers are working two low-wage or part-time jobs just to get by. Most jobs are non-union, which means not only lower wages but that workers are at-will and can be fired for any reason. Under those conditions, if the boss tells you to work on Christmas, or on your kid's birthday, or even to work extra time off the clock, workers really have no choice but to say yes. And while virtually every union contract provides for additional holiday pay, as well as a fair process for determining who will be asked to work, most California workers have none of these protections.

My husband's mom raised him on her own, working in the fields 10 hours a day and 6 days a week. 30 years later, farmworkers are still expected to work those hours without even getting overtime pay. Imagine how fast kids grow up when you have so little time at home with them. The California Legislature passed a bill this year to provide overtime pay to farmworkers but Governor Schwarzenegger has steadily refused to support any bill to improve workers rights and he vetoed the measure.

With unemployment hovering around 12 and a half percent, the imbalance of power between workers and employers is at its highest point in a generation. This makes unions more important than ever. Not only did the Labor Movement create weekends, but we created the 8 hour day and paid family leave. We continue to fight for workers not only to be treated fairly at work, but also to have the time at home and with loved ones that makes the workweek bearable. The original family-friendly work policy is a union contract.

So this Christmas morning, I will be especially grateful to be home with my family and especially grateful to be a 2nd generation union member, enjoying the benefits that my predecessors in the Labor Movement fought for. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and let's make 2011 a better year for all workers.