Lost Meaning of Labor Day

The list of federal holidays in the United States is relatively short, but each day carries a very special meaning. Most higher end jobs (those above minimum wage, government jobs, etc) offer payment for certain holidays while the employee gets to take the day off. Certain holidays are more likely to receive payment than others, but they all have one thing in common: the employee gets to take the day off from work.

The federal holidays are as follows: Christmas Day, Thanksgiving Day, New Year’s Day, Labor Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday, Washington’s Birthday (or Presidents Day), Veterans Day, and Columbus Day.

Let us go down the list, moving Labor Day to the end of the list for the sake of this blog post.

Christmas Day is given, and even though it is a Christian holiday, it is recognized by nearly every family and work entity. Outside of jobs like 24 hour gas stations, restaurants, and hotels, almost every single employee receives Christmas Day off, even if the employees aren’t paid for the holiday.

Thanksgiving Day is a day to pay homage to a very successful harvest and to celebrate a Native American from the Patuxet Indians teaching the Plymouth Pilgrims how to catch certain sea creatures and properly grow corn. It is a day to give thanks and celebrate an important part of the immigrants from our country’s history. Not including the exceptions listed for Christmas, this holiday is usually given off to every employee.

New Year’s Day has always been a celebratory affair that marks the start of a new year. This holiday is usually given off to employees.

Memorial Day has been a storied part of our history to honor those that have served our country and died in that service. While we may honor those that died while in the service, this day also serves as a memorial to those that once served and have since passed. This day is vitally important and is honored by most employers as a day off to memorialize.

Independence Day celebrates the United States’ independence from the British and the forming of our country. This day is honored by most employers and is usually counted as a paid day off.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is another extremely important holiday that helps celebrate racial equality in our country. While many employers and schools honor this day, I personally know of several entities that refuse to celebrate this holiday and instead offer a different reason for having this day with no work or school. I will save this for another blog post when we get closer to the holiday next January.

Washington’s birthday, otherwise known as Presidents Day, is an important holiday as it marks the creation of democracy in our country. While the origins of the holiday serve to honor our first president, it is often called Presidents Day with the apostrophe sometimes showing up (or not) to honor all of the presidents in our nation’s history. While it is a federal holiday, many states choose to honor it differently, making this a holiday that is celebrated in various ways.

Veterans Day is often confused with Memorial Day. Veterans Day is solely served to honor all of those serving (or have already served) in our nation’s military. Serving in the military is a selfless and valiant act that I personally believe deserves more than just a holiday. However, we take one day every year and honor those that have served. Employees are almost always given this day off with the exception of the previously listed employers.

Columbus Day is one of the only holidays that I vehemently argue against, and I still believe this holiday should not be celebrated. Given its origins, I feel like this holiday holds no merit and celebrates the wrong aspects of our country’s discovery. I will save this for another blog post on Columbus Day.

That finally brings us to Labor Day.

Labor Day was created in the late 1800’s by the Labor movement. The holiday was originally created to honor the workers throughout the United States that have helped facilitate, achieve, and push our economy and goods. During the peak of the Industrial Revolution, Americans:

“Worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks in order to eke out a basic living. Despite restrictions in some states, children as young as 5 or 6 toiled in mills, factories and mines across the country, earning a fraction of their adult counterparts’ wages. People of all ages, particularly the very poor and recent immigrants, often faced extremely unsafe working conditions, with insufficient access to fresh air, sanitary facilities and breaks.” Quote Source

Labor Day has literally been dubbed as the workingman’s holiday. This holiday is supposed to honor and celebrate those that work, those that contribute to our nation’s prosperity and economy.

Who gets Labor Day off?

Schools are always closed on Labor Day. Banks are closed. All government buildings and entities, including the Post Office, are closed. Public libraries and community centers are closed. Paid street parking is always free on federal holidays.

Who doesn’t get Labor Day off?***(See bottom of blog post)

Retail/grocery stores. Gas stations. Restaurants. Non-government contracted construction companies. Railroad workers. Factory workers. Golf courses. Hotel workers.

Does anybody else see the disparity here? We put aside one day a year to celebrate and pay homage to the working class. We put aside one day a year to give the working class a break, put their feet up, and catch their breath.

Instead, we allow our government workers to take a day off (which some may wholeheartedly deserve) and pay them for it. Our banks gets to close and they get paid for it. Schools close, but they don’t pay our teachers for the day off and the much needed break they receive.

I understand that our hotels need to remain open. I understand that nursing homes, medical buildings (hospitals, doctor’s offices, etc) need to remain open. I understand to an extent the need for gas stations (but only for gas, you can hold off on that 20oz bottle of Mountain Dew for a day). I understand that our emergency personnel (police officers, EMT, paramedics, firefighters) can’t get the day off.

However, this day was created to celebrate the working class of people. The working class, while many may only define this as manual labor, consists of those that are employed for wages. That means that the social working class fills consists of our restaurant servers, cooks, and bartenders. It’s comprised of our grocery store workers, gas station attendants, construction workers, and railroad workers. Most workers in the working class make less than $15/hour.

Labor Day is the workingman’s day. It is meant to honor the achievements and labor of the class that makes less than $15/hour. However, that president of the bank that makes $80,000/year gets the day off and gets paid for it. The director for that government office makes $60,000/year gets the day off and gets paid for it. The grocery store cashier that works a second job at night to pay bills and gets paid $10/hour does NOT get the day off, has to work to get paid, and then has to go to their second job doesn’t get anything. The factory worker that works 12 hour shifts on the factory floor at $15/hour does NOT get the day off and has to work to get paid.

The meaning of Labor Day no longer holds any value or substance. Somewhere in our nation’s past, we have somehow lost the merit of what it means to pay homage to our working class. Our blue-collar workers are told that we celebrate their contributions to our society, but they still have to go to work.

We can pay homage to the workers all we want, but if we don’t actively celebrate them by giving them the day off to recharge and celebrate, what’s the point?

The bank’s president thanks you for his cheeseburger, but he’s damn sure going to enjoy that burger while you are serving it to him on his day off.

What does Labor Day even mean anymore?

***This does not apply to every single one that I listed. Some of these workers will get the day off at the discretion of their employers.

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