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Take Back Your Time 

by Cara Gardner

Take Back Your Time Day is on Oct. 24, nine weeks before the end of the year, which is exactly how much longer Americans work than Europeans. Take Back Your Time, the organization, is nonpartisan, but has four main political platforms.

"Virtually every other industrialized country already has these [policies]," says John De Graaf, Take Back Your Time founder. "The U.S. is behind the rest of the world. These are steps in the right direction."

Minimum Paid Vacation

"Right now about a quarter of all Americans and nearly 40 percent of women who earn less than $40,000 a year don't get any paid vacation," De Graaf says. "That's significant because the right to a paid vacation is guaranteed in other countries. Even China, Brazil and India have minimum paid vacation policies." The Take Back Your Time Movement asks for a minimum of three weeks' paid vacation for every full-time worker. "Taking a vacation can reduce the risk of a heart attack; it's very good for health. It's socially important too," De Graaf says.

Paid Family Leave

"Again, every other industrialized country has paid family leave. The average is about six months," De Graaf explains. "In the U.S., only California has paid family leave and it's six weeks." The United States currently has the Family and Medical Leave Act, but it's unpaid and De Graaf says many people - especially poor people - can't afford to take vacations without pay.

4 Cap on Mandatory Overtime

"After 48 hours on the job in a week, people should have the right to refuse mandatory overtime," says De Graaf. "It would make things equal to Canada and Europe. If an employer is willing to pay, they can require someone to work as much as they want, and though not every employer does it, it does happen in far too many cases." De Graaf explains that Take Back Your Time doesn't just advocate for more leisure time through policy, but also a re-evaluation of how time is divided and controlled in our society. "Not having a cap on mandatory overtime also increases unemployment," De Graaf claims. "Because if you keep people working longer and longer so as not to pay additional benefits to the part-time workers, who [could] be working full time," says De Graaf, society ends up with a lot of people who are unemployed instead of being part-time workers.

Election Day Is a Holiday

"This is an issue we raise just because the whole question of having time for civic and political life is important," De Graaf says. "We found that many people say they don't vote because they don't have time or they go after work and find long lines. In the Florida 2000 elections, many folks said the lines were just too long or the polling places were closed before they could vote."

For more information about the Take Back Your Time movement, and to find resources on time poverty and overwork in America (including the voluntary simplicity movement), visit, and

Publication date: 07/01/04
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