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Why We Celebrate Labor Day

Labor Day is more than just barbecues, parades, and pool parties. Aside from marking the unofficial end of summer, Labor Day is an annual celebration of American laborers and their countless achievements throughout the past few centuries. Without these hardworking individuals who helped build and shape our nation, New York City would be nothing like it is today. 

Take a moment during your patriotic celebration this weekend to tip your hat to American workers and share some of these fun historical facts about how Labor Day came to be. 

The Early American Laborers

In the 1800s, the Industrial Revolution was born. Factories and mills popped up around the country, requiring thousands of workers to keep them running on any given day. 

Labor unions arose and gained momentum considerably as industrial development continued to thrive. According to Daily History, the increasing demand on factories to fill orders for consumer products and infrastructure caused the industry to take a dangerous turn. Unregulated factories took advantage of low-income laborers who depended on industrial work to survive. Americans were working seven days a week, for 12 to 16 hours a day. Even children as young as five were reported helping out in factories and mills. In some cases, entire families worked together. 

Wages during the Industrial Revolution were shockingly low. Since the majority of workers were unskilled and desperate for work, factories set the bar low for wages, some paying only 10 cents an hour. Workers were only earning enough to keep food on the table and a roof over their head. 

In addition to unfair pay, working conditions in the factories were horrific. Minimal access to fresh air, unsanitary facilities, and practically zero safety measures in place put workers’ health and safety at significant risk. 

As working conditions worsened, labor unions became more vocal, organizing strikes and rallies to fight for better pay, shorter hours, and safer working conditions across the country. These extraordinary groups shaped the way we view occupational hazards today and have saved thousands of lives by increasing safety measures in the workplace. 

The First Labor Day 

The harsh working conditions of the 19th century left laborers feeling deflated and under-appreciated. In turn, labor unions began organizing community events with the goal of lifting their spirits and inspiring workers to band together during this dark time. Unfortunately, most of these events turned into violent riots. But one celebration, in particular, was a huge hit nationwide- Labor Day.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor the very first Labor Day celebration was held in New York City on Tuesday, September 5, 1882. Coordinated by the Central Labor Union, 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square in celebration of their achievements and trades. 

Early Labor Day celebrations were held in the heart of major cities. The day would start with a street parade to display the strength and camaraderie of local labor unions. Food, festivities, and entertainment followed, marking a memorable experience laborers and their families desperately needed to boost community morale. 

The idea of creating a holiday in honor of the everyday American laborer spread rapidly to other states. On February 21, 1887, Oregon became the first state to pass a law naming Labor Day an official holiday; four more states, including New York, followed suit in the same year. 

By 1894, another 23 states had joined in the fight to dedicate a day to American laborers. On June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland finally signed it into law, marking the first Monday in September every year a legal holiday to celebrate these outstanding workers. 

Modern Day Labor Unions and Causes 

Working conditions have immensely improved since the Industrial Revolution, but labor unions remain a valuable ally to American workers. Modern-day unions fight for causes, including labor equality, better benefits, equal pay, and safer working conditions. Unions also provide workers with a sense of support, collectively bargaining in the best interests of members and their families. 

Labor unions continue to hold strong across the country. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 14.7 million wage and salary workers in 2018 were members of a union. In New York, labor union members account for 22.3 percent of the workforce, with over 1.8 million members and an additional 155,000 non-member workers who are represented by a union. 

Celebrations have slightly changed since the birth of Labor Day in the 1800s. Local parades and festivities are still held in honor of hardworking laborers across the United States every year. However, many patrons choose more low key options to celebrate the day. 

As strange as it sounds, not everyone gets the day off on Labor Day. Although it is a federal holiday, businesses are not required to provide the day off from work, or provide pay if time-off is approved. Perhaps this could be an excellent Labor Day goal for the future. 

Celebrate Safely This Year 

New Yorkers celebrating Labor Day this year do not have to take a risk to enjoy the day. Following these simple safety tips from OSHA Campus can help prevent injuries and accidents this weekend that could result in a visit to the hospital instead of a trip to the beach: 

  • Road Safety: Labor Day is one of the deadliest holidays on the road. Stay alert, drive sober, and try to leave at off-peak times to avoid road congestion that can increase motor vehicle accidents. Don’t try to pull aggressive maneuvers to get to your destination quicker. Reckless driving leads to hundreds of deaths every Labor Day weekend. It’s not worth the risk. 
  • Water Safety: Whether you’re swimming or boating, make sure to be safe in the water. Wear your lifejackets at all times. Always supervise children to reduce drowning incidents. If you are operating a motorboat this holiday, drive sober and with care. 
  • BBQ Safety:  Keep an eye on the grill this holiday to reduce house fires and injuries. Never leave a grill open or unattended, especially when children are present. Make sure your grill is placed within a safe distance of benches, decks, fences or houses. 

To all the dedicated American laborers out there who have made our country strong, have a safe and happy Labor Day weekend. 

New York City Accident Attorneys

There is no excuse for reckless accidents this Labor Day. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident caused by the negligence of someone else, the law firm of Pazer, Epstein, Jaffe & Fein, P.C. is here to support you. For over 60 years, our winning attorneys have been fighting for the rights of New Yorkers wrongfully injured. Contact us today for a free consultation to discuss your options for seeking maximum compensation for your unnecessary accident. 

Sources

“New York–New Jersey Information Office.” Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Retrieved August 30, 2019) https://www.bls.gov/regions/new-york-new-jersey/news-release/unionmembership_newyork_newjersey.htm

“History of Labor Day.” U.S. Department of Labor. (Retrieved August 30, 2019) https://www.dol.gov/general/laborday/history

“What are the origins of Labor Day?” DailyHistory.org. (Retrieved August 30, 2019) https://dailyhistory.org/What_are_the_origins_of_Labor_Day%3F

“Labor Day Safety Tips.” Oshacampus.com.(Retrieved August 30, 2019) https://www.oshacampus.com/blog/labor-day-safety-tips/