Take a break this Labor Day weekend
Monday marks the day when many of us will gather in a backyard setting with family and friends for the final time this summer. It’s Labor Day, and we’ll celebrate that annual day off like it’s our last, probably indulging in an adult beverage (or two), perhaps lounging poolside before it’s closed up for the season and breaking out the grill for burgers and dogs before we store it away until spring.
But while we’re enjoying that last warm three-day weekend, let’s not forget what that precious day off represents. Labor Day, officially created by congressional legislation in 1894, is meant to honor the social and economic achievements of workers in the United States.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the origins of the federal holiday aren’t fully known. Some historians believe Peter McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, was the first to suggest taking a day to celebrate American workers. Others say Matthew Maguire, secretary of the International Association of Machinists Local 344 in New Jersey, called for the holiday in 1882 when he served on the Central Labor Union in New York. Regardless of whose idea it was, the Central Labor Union did adopt a Labor Day proposal, and the first Labor Day was celebrated Sept. 5 of that year. More states soon caught the Labor Day bug, eventually leading to its formal blessing from Congress.
Labor unions and their organized movements throughout the U.S. have proven effective at improving conditions for workers since the Industrial Revolution. Just this year, nearly 40,000 Verizon workers went on strike after the utility company threatened pension cuts and the possibility of more outsourcing. After a month and a half, Verizon and its workers reached an agreement that Communication Workers of America President Chris Shelton called “a victory for working families across the country and an affirmation of the power of working people,” according to New York Times reports.
Certainly, there are those who argue vehemently, year after year, that unions have too greatly expanded their influence today, with hands stretched deep in the pockets of lawmakers and affecting election outcomes. But politics aside, the benefits unions bring to construction workers, electrical workers, teachers and others, as well as the growing families they work to support, can’t be denied.
Locally, the Charles County Public School system negotiates contracts between its variety of employees including teachers, support staff, bus drivers and administrators. These annual negotiations between the various local school employee unions and the board may not entail a strike of the magnitude a huge company like Verizon saw this year, but they are not insignificant. They hold our public officials’ feet to the fire and ensure our county’s public school employees are able to earn a living wage and support their families through fair income, medical benefits and more.
So keep that in mind this Labor Day, while floating on a pool raft, stomach full and content in living the cliché American dream. That dream, for so many Americans, is made possible today because of our history’s labor movements. And that’s something worth celebrating.