Today is what is laughingly known as a "government holiday." That means it is a holiday if you are in government. For many private industry types, unlike their 350,000 federal counterparts here, it is just another Monday.
This mid-winter break -- observed mainly by governments and banks (which have to close) -- is one reason a lot of nonfederal workers feel government colleagues have it soft. Veterans Day is another government "holiday" much of the private sector ignores.
Ironically, days like this wind up costing the government much more in salary -- not to mention lost production time -- than a regular Monday. This is because thousands of essential employees will be on the job, at holiday pay rates.
The psychology behind holidays is interesting. And the fact that feds have more of them than many private workers may, in the long run, cost them.
Holidays are appreciated -- but often not very much -- by the people who get them.To firms, corporations and businesses, employe holidays are expensive, horrible things to cope with.
If you are off today you are off. Period. No big deal. You may shop, or sleep late. Watch TV. Even talk with your children. But it is no big deal for most.
For the company or boss (except the government of course) holidays are a very big deal. And an abomination, unless they are merchants selling greatly overpriced items at cutrate (that is only moderately over-priced) levels. Employers at holiday time must either decide to lose money, and maybe customer goodwill, by closing, or stay open and maybe pay double time for another work day.
Few employers give workers the day off unless the law requires it, or unions have won the holiday at the threat of a strike, or by having a strike.
None of the above applies to the government, the nation's biggest public service. Federal employes get this holiday and others without any union bargaining, picket lines, strikes or trading other benefits from a labor package. Congress said do it, and it is done.
That sort of paternalism is fine, when it is nice. Paternalism is the main reason government pay is what it is, retirement is what it is, and annual leave is what it is. It is also responsible for free or cheapie parking at many federal agencies in a city where downtown spots can cost $3 to $6 per day, if you can find one.
That sort of paternalism, comfortable as it is, has a price. The bill seems to be coming due. This government holiday may be the time to reflect on it, although many workers won't like the message.
Take federal pay. Government workers, when all is said and done, get what the President wants them to get. Back when we thought we could afford guns and butter, too, some of those raises were nice. And won without any real blood, sweat, toil or tears on the part of the beneficiaries.
But in recent years, presidents of both parties have been behaving like stern fathers. They have tightened up the allowances. And they can do it because the system used to pay federal workers was handed to them by the White House, which makes the rules.There were no strikes, no battles won (or even lost), nothing except some lobbying on Capitol Hill. Because that system came so easily, federal workers now find themselves easily manipulated. They are the only group in the country now being held BELOW the wage guidelines President Carter is (generally in vain) begging private industry to consider.
Now take retirement. The federal system is better than most. Retirement is earlier. Those benefits were won without great pain. Congress handed it over, and now Congress is preparing to take it back.
The White House is thinking about "deliberalizing" the whole system. It may raise the age of retirement in government, to put it on a par with industry practice. A lot of people are thinking about putting federal and postal workers under social security. The federal retirement fund, which employes pay 7 percent of their salary to help maintain, is about to be tapped by the White House, to help pay off some secret agreements in the Panama Canal treaty.
Things are changing. This is an era of whack-the-government. It is more fashinable than ever to beat the bureaucrats. Local federal workers who complain that the Washington media is hard on them ought to read papers in Seattle, Des Moines or Los Angeles. They are getting patsy press here compared to what is being written and said beyond the beltway.
So if you are off today, enjoy yourself. This holiday could be a lot more costly -- in the long run -- to those who are off than to those who have to work.