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Campaigning for Time

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During a recent appearance on PBS' “NOW with Bill Moyers,” Republican pollster and strategist Frank Luntz observed that “lack of free time” is the number-one issue with swing voters. “The issue of time matters to them more than anything else in life,” Luntz declared.

Americans feel increasingly time crunched. The Wall Street Journal confirmed that Americans are working 20 percent longer today than in 1970, while work-time has declined in other industrial countries. Our vacations are disappearing, and a new Harris survey finds that 37 percent of women earning less than $40,000 a year (and 28 percent of all working women) receive no paid vacation at all.

“Right now,” Frank Luntz says, “no one has created an agenda, what I would call the free-time agenda. So it's up for grabs. Just like these swing voters are.”

Luntz is only partly right. Neither American political party has addressed the issue in any serious way. But at Loyola University in Chicago this past June, more than 100 labor, religious, family, environmental, business, and other leaders met for the founding conference of the “Take Back Your Time” movement and unveiled a free-time agenda they hope political candidates will support. The agenda includes four items:

  • Paid family leave.
  • Three weeks minimum paid vacation for all workers
  • The right to refuse overtime after 48 hours on the job per week.
  • A holiday on election day.

Take Back Your Time leaders say each of these measures, if adopted, would only bring the United States closer to standards already in place in all other industrial countries. One new political candidate, Anne Nolan, who is running for the Minnesota state Senate, is putting the Take Back Your Time agenda at the top of her campaign priorities.

The movement celebrated its first Take Back Your Time Day last year, with events in more than 200 communities and endorsements from several cities and the governor of Michigan. Take Back Your Time Day is October 24th, the anniversary of the date in 1940 when the 40-hour workweek became law in the United States.


John de Graaf wrote this article for YES! Magazine. John is national coordinator of Take Back Your Time, www.timeday.org.

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