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Working conditions altered since first Labor Day

 

Last updated 8/31/2022 at 3:32pm | View PDF



Labor Day traditionally marks the unofficial end of summer. Vacations have been taken, the kids have gone back to school (unless there’s an extended summer construction schedule) and life gets back to normal.

This year, some employers hope that mindset will help them convince remote workers to return to the office, according to a New York Times article.

“Each pandemic fall has brought with it employers’ hopes of a broad-scale return to the office,” Emma Goldberg writes in “The office’s last stand.” “Last year’s plans were derailed by the Delta variant. But this time, business leaders are adamant that they won’t change course.”

More than one-third of U.S. workers who can do their jobs from home want to stay permanently remote, according to Gallup data.

And all the fields in which work can’t be done remotely — from teaching to construction to manufacturing to health care — workers are in short supply.

The working environment people are looking for today — in an at-home office where they can keep an eye on their kids, do a load of laundry and stay in their PJs — stands in sharp contrast to the working environment that existed at the height of the Industrial Revolution in the late 1800s, when Labor Day became a federal holiday.

Then the average American worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week, just to earn a basic living. In states where there were no child labor laws, kids as young as 5 or 6 could be found working in mills, factories and mines around the country — and earning much less than their adult co-workers. Working conditions weren’t always safe and breaks often were not allowed.

Labor unions grew more prominent as workers moved from the farm to the factory. They organized strikes and protests in an attempt to obtain better working conditions.

The first Labor Day parade was held Sept. 5, 1882, when 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City.

Two years later, The Pullman Palace Car Co. strike — which involved 125,000 workers on 29 railroads and crippled rail travel across the country — prompted Congress to legalize the holiday.

The first proposal for the holiday suggested observations include a street parade to exhibit “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The parades, picnics and parties that will take place this coming weekend echo the celebrations called for even before the holiday became official. But perhaps what workers would appreciate most — especially those working in places that are short-handed — is a sincere compliment from a customer when service is good and a healthy dose of patience when it is not.

Labor conditions aren’t what they were over a century ago, but they aren’t what they were in 2019, either. Something to ponder this holiday weekend.

 
 

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