Workers still earn appreciation, even if the way we work has changed
The first Labor Day was celebrated on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City. While the specific originator of the idea for holiday is contested, it’s intent was clear. The day was designated by the Central Labor Union as a time to honor working men.
The proposal outlining the creation of the holiday included the way in which celebrations should take place. There was supposed to be a street parade to exhibit to the public the strength and spirit of the trade and labor organizations in each community followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of workers and their families. The first Labor Day celebrated as a federal holiday was in 1894, when legislation was passed to officially dedicate the first Monday in September to the American worker, whose effort and dedication brought the Unites States so much prosperity.
What is mentioned less than the call to celebrate laborers when discussing the origin of the day is that most believe the holiday was established to appease men and women who were striking and fighting for better pay and shorter hours.
It is still very much appropriate to acknowledge and pay tribute to the American worker, but so many things about our employment landscape have changed in the last 134 years.
Being a working American is not the same as it was then. Employer/employee relationships have changed. It’s not uncommon now for workers to feel or be treated as if they are disposable. If you don’t meet expectations, you aren’t motivated or taught to do so, you’re replaced either by someone who physically takes over your desk, an automated process or a worker overseas who does your job for pennies on the dollar.
The way we work has changed. With constant debates over minimum wage, mandatory furloughs, rising costs of secondary education, the decline in health care coverage, the virtual elimination of pensions and the reduction in 401Ks, maybe we’re closer to being back to having the struggling workers fighting for their own rights than we are the celebrations of working men and women who made this country what it is. It’s understandable that some days, motivation for our workers is hard to come by.
If a hard-working American got a desperately sought, actual day off now, a parade and festival wouldn’t be at the top of the priority list. It might even be considered laughable to some who use their coveted time off to enjoy their families or run errands and handle matters that can’t be dealt with during the typical workweek.
Recently it’s been touted that unemployment in Kentucky is lower than it’s been in years. It was down in 93 counties in July. But it rose in the other 27 counties. What some people tend to forget when sharing that number is that it doesn’t include unemployed Kentuckians who haven’t looked for work in the last four weeks. That doesn’t seem like a big deal until you consider how many people likely have just given up.
This is visible in the fact that our job market is somewhat wide open. The rewards are far greater to be an individual seeking work than a company struggling to fill positions. But that’s because there are so many positions open and the pool of interested, qualified candidates is so shallow. Some refuse to settle for employment that is “beneath them” in terms of qualifications. Others would love to work, but the rising costs of health care and childcare, or education requirements, make staying home more cost-efficient. Our jobs are becoming more and more automated every day and our workers are looking for more fulfillment from their employment that isn’t always there.
We are again at a crossroads.