The History Behind Labor Day
The Labor Day holiday is celebrated each year on the first Monday in September. For many people, it is a three-day weekend that marks the end of the summer. It is celebrated with barbecues, picnics, and parades in towns all across the county.
The history of Labor Day, however, entails much more than that. It is a holiday created to honor and recognize the contributions of the American worker.
How Labor Day Was Established
During the peak of the Industrial Revolution in the late 1800s, American workers were forced to work 12-hour days and seven-day weeks at salaries that didn’t reflect their toil. The occupational health and safety of mines, mills, and manufacturing plants many worked in were largely unregulated. It wasn’t uncommon for workers to experience serious and disabling injuries.
By the late nineteenth century, labor unions began to appear on the scene in an effort to protect the average American worker and help ensure they received a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. It was the first labor unions that started the movement to establish a “workingman’s holiday.”
New York was the first state to introduce legislation to establish a holiday for laborers, but Oregon actually passed the first bill in 1887. Four other states followed in 1888: Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York. By 1890, Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had passed similar bills. On June 28, 1894, Congress passed legislation officially designating the first Monday in September of each year as a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.
Here are some other interesting facts about Labor Day and labor unions:
- President Grover Cleveland signed the federal act to officially establish Labor Day.
- According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 14.8 million wage and salary employees belonged to unions in 2017—a slight increase from 2016.
- The National Education Association (NEA) has nearly three million members, including inactive and lifetime members, making them the country’s largest union. They represent public school teachers and employees, as well as college and university staffs.
- More men are part of unions than women, and black workers have a higher union membership rate than workers who are white, Hispanic, or Asian.
- Non-union workers’ median weekly earnings were only 80 percent of union member workers’ earnings, according to 2017 statistics.
Sunrise Senior Living extends our sincere thanks for the service and contributions American workers across the country make every day!