It used to be the majority of work done during the holidays was in fields that don’t get time off. From emergency medical technicians to truck drivers, the undergird of our economy has always been tilted toward running on a barebone-staffing level when it comes time for holly jollies. Now that COVID-19 has swept in like an unwanted Christmas sweater, the number of jobs that are work-from-home has increased the likelihood of people working when once they would have time off.
Seemingly the only people without work this holiday season are those who have seen their jobs evaporate during the pandemic. Meanwhile, the number of people working from home is now up to one out of every five workers. Where the office was once a clearly demarcated zone of work, there is now a new workplace for Americans: the home. While this can open work opportunities for many, it hastens the rush toward a 52-week-a-year schedule for many workers. What was once an incentive is now a perverse silver lining within the realm of pro-employer propaganda.
In other words, if you are lucky enough to have a job, you are probably unlucky enough to have to work during this period.
While we will hear an incessant drumbeat of allowing people to be with their families this holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, it is not COVID-19 that is taking people away from their families; it’s work. Nothing could be more conducive to family time than giving workers paid time off during this period. However, with 25% of workers not getting the benefit of paid time off and the proliferation of so-called blackout days—those when paid time off cannot be taken—it’s increasingly unlikely that any worker will have the freedom to see their family without giving some kind of concessions to their employers.
A Christmas Carol was once a parable of greed and the dehumanization of one’s employees during the holidays but now, deliberately, employers have come to see Ebenezer Scrooge as someone to look up to—without the moral turn at the end of the day.
If COVID-19 deniers truly thought it was right and just for people to go and see their families during the holidays, they would not be so eager to turn workers over to a peonage that ends their ability to see family without incurring a hefty financial punishment. Americans should be able to go see their family this year, they say, without asking if these workers actually can. If a worker balks at this proposition, pointing to Black Friday work or limits on their paid time off, these same, mostly conservative, deniers will call work a privilege. Santa cannot win here.
Going forward, it is unlikely that employers will cede any ground back to workers struck by COVID-19. New job openings at lower rates and with fewer benefits, like paid time off, will almost guarantee that Americans will continue to lose time with their families during the holidays. Perhaps this truly is the last time most will be able to see their family during the holidays, pandemic or no.