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Is the Three-Day Holiday a Right?

Roll back the government worker three-day weekend bonanza.

by
Michael Swartz

Bio

December 29, 2010 - 10:28 am

With government statistics finding that federal workers are ridiculously more well-compensated than their average counterparts in the private sector, there’s another reason to join the parade of those bashing our nation’s pencil-pushers.

As we prepare to celebrate the new year, those who work for us in the federal government are likely to  enjoy being in the midst of a stretch where they enjoy six paid holidays in the span of a little over three calendar months. Beginning with the observance of Veterans Day on November 11th and closing with Washington’s Birthday on February 21st, federal employees enjoy a number of three-day weekends thanks to a statute and executive order penned decades ago.

Regardless of which day of the week holidays traditionally fall on, most public sector employees have a day off carved out for them from the typical workweek. Even with the 2010-11 calendar placing Christmas and New Year’s Day on weekends it just wouldn’t do to have our public servants miss paid time off work, so those holidays are celebrated on the preceding Friday. This provision for weekend occurrences also affects the newer tradition of celebrating Martin Luther King’s birthday, since the January 15th anniversary of his birth falls on a Saturday.

Still, with the exception of that observance and a later change to Veterans Day from a short-term home as the fourth Monday in October, we have followed the federal calendar of Monday holidays for forty years. Prior to 1971, Washington’s Birthday and Memorial Day were celebrated on their traditional dates of February 22nd and May 30th, respectively. But while Memorial Day 2011 will be Monday, May 30, the birthday of our first president will fall on a Tuesday, and having a midweek holiday messes up retailers and ski resorts, who love the cash register’s jingle on midwinter three-day weekends.

Conversely, most of us who still have jobs in the private sector can look forward to a long slog of five-day workweeks once January 3rd arrives as the next paid holiday off in the business world generally doesn’t occur until Memorial Day. Perhaps it’s good to get back into a routine after the hustle and bustle of our holiday season, but those who work on our taxpaying dime get a few more breaks before their grind sets in.

Yet making our holiday observances more convenient for federal workers, the travel industry, and retailers also makes them seem more trite. Some of us in the hinterlands have become a little annoyed that honoring the birth of one of our nation’s founders is an excuse for retailers to have a weekend sale – then again, one also has to ask why these retailers are so politically correct that they don’t push bargain prices for the birthday weekend honoring Dr. Martin Luther King.

Granted, even back in the radical era of the early 1970s there was still enough common sense to maintain the dates celebrating our nation’s independence and for giving thanks, and federal workers seem none the worse for wear when July 4th falls in the middle of the week or after the traditional Thursday celebration of Thanksgiving. (Of course, in 2011 July 4th happens to be a Monday as well.) Even after federal holidays were streamlined in 1971, the outcry of veterans and traditionalists was enough to shift Veterans Day back to its rightful place on the calendar as the eleventh day of the eleventh month just a few years later.

So what would be wrong with restoring the observance of remaining federal holidays to their rightful places? After all, there’s better than a 50 percent chance that either the holiday will fall on a Friday or Monday – to naturally create a three-day weekend – or the present holiday policy for dates falling on a Saturday or Sunday would apply. (In 2011, observing traditional dates would only change two of the ten federally observed holidays back to the middle of the week – the Tuesday of Washington’s Birthday and Wednesday for Columbus Day. All others would be celebrated on a Monday or a Friday.)

While it may be a stretch to consider the idea of going retro on federal holiday observances as a return to a limited, Constitutional government – particularly since our founding fathers only saw the need for the occasional day of thanksgiving – there’s nothing wrong with restoring the traditional reverence for particular days on the calendar even if it does screw up the sacred three-day weekend. Federal employees who are skiers and shoppers can live like the rest of us and take one of their plentiful vacation days if a long weekend is that important to them.

It may be a symbolic gesture at best, but if we’re serious about trimming the size of government this may be a step toward once again familiarizing federal employees with the concept of how the rest of us in the private sector work.

Michael Swartz is a Maryland-based freelance writer and blogger. His home site is monoblogue. He can be reached at lfs.mswartz@gmail.com
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