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Group Hopes Workers Take Time to Seek More Time Off

October 20, 2006|Molly Selvin | Times Staff Writer

Taking time off is becoming hard work.

Americans are so overworked, John de Graaf laments, that they don't have time to rally for more time off.

For the fourth straight year, the organizer of Take Back Your Time Day, is struggling to get people to participate in his cause: getting employers to support more paid vacation, family leave and sick leave.

"We struggle financially and none of our policy objectives has been adopted," the 60-year-old Seattle native said of the event, which takes place Tuesday in Santa Monica and other cities. "But we have hopes."

De Graaf and others became interested in what he calls Americans' "time-impoverished lives" in the early 1990s. The television producer -- he produced "Affluenza," a show about overconsumption -- said he realized that "everyone I knew was looking two weeks ahead in their appointment calendars just to do lunch with each other."

Four years ago, De Graaf and a group of friends declared Oct. 24 as Take Back Your Time Day. The date, nine weeks before the end of the year, is meant to dramatize how much longer Americans work each year than Europeans. Besides calling attention to the group's legislative agenda, the day is meant to prod people into modest personal changes. This year's theme, "Get Back to the Table," is a call for people to reconnect with friends and family over a meal.

Toward that end, local organizers plan to stage "The Last American Supper" on Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade at noon Tuesday.

"We hope the day encourages folks to have one slow, quiet meal with people they really care about," said Carol Holst, one of the Los Angeles-area organizers.

But the group's leaders say they really don't know whether their message is getting through or even how many people have turned out for past years' events.

Some events have attracted as many as 200 people from a mailing list of 11,000.

De Graaf has his own troubles with being too busy. His schedule on Tuesday includes events in Iowa and Seattle, with a plane to catch in between. He said, "I'm one of the Americans overworking to end overwork."

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