A New Holiday? Privileged Workers?

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

If Assemblyman Chris Holden’s AB 542 offering another holiday to public employees becomes law it will widen the divide between public and private workers and may even aid pension reformers. AB 542 would add presidential Election Day to a list of holidays public employees and public school employees enjoy that the general private worker does not. Providing a holiday under the law for one set of workers creates an image of a privileged class.

Why should public workers be the only ones who get Election Day off? Don’t private sector workers also have to balance work and children and errands and other activities along with their voting obligations?

Wariness about this proposal feeds off the old suspicion that government officials take care of those who take care of them. A headline created on the Flash Report website linked to an article about the bill suggests AB 542 is intended to boost Democratic turnout at the polls. The logic behind this headline comes from the fact that public employees, through their unions, strongly support the majority Democrats.

But there is something more important to consider. If the bill becomes law it will open wider the divide between those who work for the government and those who pay for it.

I’m sure hard working public employees don’t see themselves as privileged. Yet, when legislators offer them additional holidays that others don’t receive and defend retirement benefits that private workers don’t enjoy, the privilege label sticks.

AB 542 as written would add another paid holiday to holidays that most private workers don’t enjoy such as Caesar Chavez Day and Veterans Day. Some public workers also get Admission Day—the day California became a state.

The idea behind the bill is to improve voter turnout on Election Day. There are a number of problems with this theory. One is that in states that do declare an Election Day holiday voting has barely increased, according to a news report in the Sacramento Bee. Second, Californians are becoming mail-in voters in greater and greater numbers. What impact would an Election Day holiday have with so many choosing to vote by mail?

Offering an extra holiday to public workers plays into the hot debate over public pensions. Private workers are questioning the generous retirement benefits that the public sector receives. Squeezing services for all citizens because of growing public worker retirement payments has also become an issue. Add new laws to offer a holiday aimed at only public workers and it reflects on the privilege public workers enjoy from legislative benefactors.

Public union officials call the reaction to public retirement plans “pension envy” and try to beat it back at every opportunity. If AB 542 becomes law there will be additional envy from private workers. In turn, such a move may aid pension reformers in their crusade as they argue against extraordinary benefits enjoyed by one class of workers.

Of course, if CalExit becomes reality, maybe a new Election Day holiday would offset to a small degree both the loss of Admission Day and July 4th, which no longer would be celebrated in California.

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