advice/perspective on jobs, work and management

I didn’t get Columbus Day off

A lot of people seemed to get this past Monday (Columbus Day) off from work, I noticed. Not me though – what’s up with that? I work hard! If I have to go into the office, I think bankers, postal workers, and whoever else should be working too. It only seems fair… – Name withheld       

Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day is indeed a federal holiday in the US.[1]

Government offices are closed, so most federal employees enjoyed a paid day off from work. Many banks weren’t open for business either. But who else may have had Monday off very much depends on the state or locality in which you live. Oregon and Washington have dispensed with the holiday altogether, for example, while in DC schools were closed for the day.

Nevertheless, you’re right of course.

It doesn’t seem fair that some people (like you) had to work, while others were at home lounging around in their pajamas or whatever. But instead of wishing that everyone else suffer along with you, you should be indignant that you didn’t get a day away from work as well.

In many ways, our sense of fairness is one of our more redeeming qualities as human beings. Any progress that our species has made over the past several millennia can probably be traced to a desire to make things “more equal.” This compulsion seems to be innate too. Split a cookie between two toddlers—making sure to give one a noticeably larger piece—and then watch their reaction. You’ll quickly see what I mean.

Unfortunately, this wonderful quality can also be used against us if we’re not careful. Wanting everyone else to have it as bad as you is a far cry from hoping to be treated as well as they. If we listened to frustrated voices like yours, in other words, we’d all end up worse off, not better.[2]

I noticed that one of the UAW’s demands in their recent strike against the Big Three automakers is the reinstatement of 1960s-style pensions.[3] Most employers don’t offer this benefit any more, though they used to be quite common – including at the very same companies that now find themselves being picketed. I don’t know if the union will be successful in their bid, but to my mind they’re on the right track.

They’re trying to raise the bar back to where it should, and used to be – not settling for the fact it’s been lowered for everyone else.



[1] The first Columbus Day celebrations in the US took place in 1792. However, it did not become a federally recognized holiday until 1971, when it was signed into law by the Johnson administration. Beginning in 1992, some states began marking the day (typically the second Monday in October) by honoring the heritage and culture of indigenous American peoples. Today, 20 states and territories celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of or in addition to Columbus Day (Wikipedia).

[2] I heard a variation of this argument during the pandemic, perversely enough. As part of an attempt to coax teachers back into the classroom before the vaccines became available, it was argued that since restaurant workers, delivery truck drivers, and a lot of other “non-essential” workers had returned to their jobs, teachers should get back to work too. No – anyone who could, should have stayed home longer. In that way, the potential loss of life could have been minimized.

[3] “The UAW is asking to bring back pensions…” From NPR’s All Things Considered. Aired Sept. 15, 2023. Kai McNamee, Justine Kenin, Mary Louise Kelly, contributors. Retrieved Oct. 12, 2023.


  1. Tim Eiler

    I love that the UAW wants pensions back. The whole 401(k) thing seems to be a lot of risk for not much payback, overall. On the other hand, does the UAW really want to go back to the 1980’s and 1990’s when there was a huge rash of unfunded and underfunded pensions?

    Oh, and don’t forget that some celebrate, albeit it’s not a federal holiday, Leif Erickson day instead of Columbus Day (though most of the celebrators probably also recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day at the same time)!

    Overall, I love the reminder that dragging people down isn’t the same as moving people forward. It seems there’s a whole political party in the US that is currently boiling in a cesspool of dragging people down, so it’s good to see the opposite sentiment getting an airing again!

    • the subordinate

      It’s fair question: Why would the UAW insist on reinstating old-school pensions as part of their negotiations given their spotty history? Well, perhaps this too is more about the optics (I’m thinking of UAW president Shaw Fain’s “Eat the Rich” T-shirt). It turns out that GM CEO Mary Barra is expected to be compensated to the tune of $29M this year – or about what it would take the median family in this country over 300 years to earn. Given she’s in effect receiving a “full pension” from the company–albeit in one lump sum–the union probably thinks it’s not unreasonable to ask that its members be set up for life too…

  2. Joel P

    Thanks for the positive message re: a healthier attitude toward unfair labor practices (versus simmering with resentment) with which I wholeheartedly agree.

    The recent resurgence in labor unions asserting themselves is a welcome change – and Not just in terms of more confident in advocacy by the unions, but also (hopefully) greater public approval / acceptance of labor unions, generally and in support of specific strikes.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


To comment on a specific post, scroll to the bottom of the post’s page and submit your comment there. To search the archive, click here