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Reflections on Labor Day

Owen H. Laird

On Monday, millions of people across the United States enjoyed their Labor Day by doing what people do on Labor Day: getting one last day in at the beach, holding a cookout, spending time with family and friends, catching a baseball game, or any of the other quintessentially American activities that spring to mind when you think of Labor Day.

Labor Day, however, is not “celebrated” in the way most other holidays are.  That is, people do not, generally, take time on Labor Day to consider or observe the meaning of the holiday.  Labor Day is typically viewed as simply a day off marking the end of summer, rather than bearing any special significance about workers’ rights.  With organized labor fading, economic inequality growing, and workers’ rights being curtailed, it is important to remember the origin and significance of Labor Day, and to continue the fight that led to its creation.

While most countries recognize the labor movement on May 1 – celebrated as “May Day” or “International Workers Day,” Labor Day in the United States – as well as Canada’s Labour Day – is held on the first Monday of September.

The push for a holiday recognizing the worker grew in the late 19th century.  At that time unions and organized labor were ascendant, and engaged in series of clashes and strikes in an effort to improve the lot of the working class.  Workers were fighting for things we take for granted today – the weekend, safe working con, an eight-hour day.  Ultimately, President Cleveland made Labor Day a federal holiday in 1894.

Since that time, workers have continued to fight for improved working conditions and economic fairness.  And, with the codification of the National Labor Relations Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act, fundamental workers’ rights were enshrined in the United States Code.  After the victories of the early 20th century, workers rights’ issues have expanded to include civil rights issues, such as non-discrimination, and human rights issues, such as immigration and human trafficking.

But the struggle is not over.  More workers than ever are classified as “independent contractors,” meaning that they are not entitled to any of the protections won over the past century.  Further, the Trump administration is set to introduce a tax plan that primarily benefits corporations and the wealthy, and is doing everything it can to undo social, political, economic, and environmental protections.  Every branch of the federal government is Republican-controlled, and participating in the primary agenda of the Party: making the rich richer.  With the richest Americans taking an ever-larger piece of the pie, we cannot be complacent.  Workers must remember the struggles of the past, and the American people must stand up together and fight the backwards direction that this administration is taking on issues like social justice and economic equality.

If your employer has violated your rights under labor and employment laws, contact The Harman Firm, LLP.

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