Happy Labor Day: 5 things to know about the holiday
Today is Labor Day. It’s a time to gather with family and friends to mark the end of summer, to honor and celebrate the contributions of the America worker and labor movement, and … because ‘Murica … a time for markdowns and sales.
But who created the holiday? And when did we first start celebrating it? Excellent questions. Glad you asked. Below, some answers, courtesy of the good folks at the National Constitution Center.
1. So when did it start, anyway? Back in 1882, labor leaders in New York decided to throw a parade to celebrate their members being in unions and to show support for all unions, according to a history posted to the National Constitution Center’s website. At least 20,000 people attended, and workers had to give up a day’s pay to attend. Thus, it’s probably understandable that (and setting the stage for future Labor Day bashes) much, much beer was consumed. Other regions of the country soon followed New York’s lead, and by 1887, Oregon, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Colorado had made Labor Day a state holiday, according to the history.
2. So how’d it become a national holiday? You can thank President Grover Cleveland, who signed it into law in 1894. That year, after violence related to the Pullman Railroad Strike, Cleveland and other federal lawmakers wanted to institute a federal holiday celebrating labor (just not on May 1, because, well, y’know …). According to the National Constitution Center’s history, U.S. Sen. James Henderson Kyle, of South Dakota introduced the legislation making Labor Day a federal legal holiday on the first Monday of September. It was approved on June 28, 1894. By then, most states already instituted their own Labor Day holidays anyway.
3. So how many people belong to labor unions? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 14 million people, or about 10 percent of the workforce, belonged to labor unions in 2021. And while there’s recently been a surge of private sector unionization, the ranks of public sector unions still far outstrip that of the private sector (33.9 percent compared to 6.1 percent, according to the federal data).
4. Who belongs to unions? According to the BLS data, the “highest unionization rates were among workers in education, training, and library occupations (34.6 percent) and protective service occupations (33.3 percent).” And according to the National Constitution Center, the National Education Association, which represents teachers and educators, is the biggest union, boasting a membership of about 3 million active and inactive members.
5. So do you have to stop wearing white after Labor Day? So, yeah, I know, that’s the traditional rule. All the whites, Nantucket reds and boat-themed clothing are supposed to be packed away until next summer. Opinion remains sharply divided. But since the pandemic pretty much smashed all fashion rules as we know them, you should feel free to go for it if that’s your jam. So from GQ and Vogue, here are some tips for pulling off post-Labor Day white.
Oh, and according to the National Constitution Center, Labor Day also marks the unofficial end of hot dog season — which is just some nonsense right there — as anyone who’s ever scarfed down a dog and a beer at a hockey game will tell you.
But however you celebrate, enjoy the day. We’ll see you all back here on Tuesday.
This commentary was first published by the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, part of States Newsroom network of news bureaus that includes the Louisiana Illuminator.
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John L. Micek