Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers according to the US Department of Labor’s History of Labor Day. The holiday originated in 1882 when the Central Labor Union of New York City sought to create “a day off for the working citizens”. That year, the first Labor Day Parade took place in New York City on Tuesday, September 5, 1882. The Library of Congress American Memory web site has a brief entry about the First Labor Day parade in Union Square.
The DOL site states that the New York State Legislature was the first to introduce a state bill recognizing Labor Day, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887. Later that year, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York also enacted laws establishing the Labor Day holiday followed by Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania by the end of the decade. By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers. Finally, on June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed S. 730 into law declaring Labor Day, the first Monday in September of each year, as a national holiday.
Originally, Labor Day legislation did not require private employers to give their employees a day off from work, much less require them to give employees holiday pay. See N.Y. Laws of 1887, Ch. 289; 28 Stat. 96 (1894). Some businessmen voluntarily gave their employees a day off, but not most. As Samuel Gompers explained to a Labor Day crowd in San Francisco in 1911, “Labor day in America was not given to us any more than other things are given to us, on a silver platter. It was wrung from unwilling employers and legislatures. We just took it.”
Today with the diminishing strength of the American labor movement, Labor Day has come to mean merely a three-day weekend marking the end of summer and time to go back to school. This Labor Day, September 1, Workplace Fairness will launch the Take Back Labor Day blog project on the Today’s Workplace blog. You can visit the blog and share your opinions about workplace fairness in the US. For a list of participants in the project on workplace issues, click here.