If you're a union member, your benefits are negotiated into a collective bargaining agreement, usually called the union contract. Although there are some clauses that must be in a union contract, vacation time -- or any kind of benefit for that matter -- isn't one of them. Also, the law doesn't require that employers give you vacation time, and if your employer is one of those that gives paid time off, that's a matter between your labor union and the company's management team.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers aren't required to give employees vacation time or any other kind of paid time off, or PTO, but most companies do for two reasons: Paid time off is an effective recruitment tool, and companies that don't give some form of PTO usually have a difficult time attracting the kind of employees they want. Also, paid time off benefits employees and employers -- it's time to relax and rejuvenate so that when you return to work, you're well-rested and ready to resume your productivity.
SCA and DBA Exceptions
There are two exceptions to required vacation time. Companies that provide construction services to the federal government are subject to either the Service Contract Act, or SCA, or the Davis-Bacon Act, or DBA. Under the SCA, companies that do more than $2,500 of business with the federal government are subject to geographic-based wage scales, which include fringe benefits such as vacation. Under the DBA, federal contractors are required to provide certain workers with vacation and other fringe benefits. In both cases -- SCA and DBA -- the government requires fringe benefits so there's parity between employees who work for government contractors and other workers in the local area.
If you're a union member, your local's bargaining representative and the company's negotiation team meet to hammer out a union contract. Union contracts set out the terms and conditions of your employment, such as pay, raises, benefits, pension contributions, vacation time, seniority matters and overtime. One of the clauses all union contracts are required, by law, to have is a statement of equal employment opportunity and language that states neither the union nor the employer will engage in discriminatory employment practices. The other contractual requirement is wage rates that are at least the federal or state minimum wage rate -- whichever rate is higher is the one that applies.
One of the reasons employees join unions is because they're looking for improved working conditions, higher wages and better benefits. It's good business sense for the union and the company to negotiate vacation benefits, particularly when so many nonunion employers offer it anyway. For example, the AT&T workers and Communication Workers of America's union contract effective through 2015 states that employees get two weeks of vacation each year for her first six years on the job, three weeks of vacation each year for Year 7 through 14 and up to five weeks of vacation for putting in more than 25 years of service to the company. The Service Employees International Union's webpage titled, "The Union Advantage: Facts and Figures," cites results from a study conducted by public entities and private research institutes that indicates "Union workers get 28 percent more days of paid vacation, on average, than non-union members." That said, it's not the union that gives you vacation time -- it's the company that negotiates the amount of vacation time during its contract negotiations with the union.
The government doesn't get involved in mandating paid vacation time for employers -- that's up to the company's management and the union's bargaining representative. That said, if your employer does provide vacation benefits, the company may be subject to state laws about how that vacation time is compensated when you leave your job. For example, in California, you must be paid for any unused vacation time you have on the books when you leave the company because California law says vacation time is the same as earned compensation.
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.