Labor Day not meant for work

How ironic is it that the day set aside to honor the labors of our nation’s workers is a day that many of us actually do not spend working. Yet, it also seems somewhat appropriate.

Nationally, the day is meant to recognize the contributions workers make to ensure the country’s well-being. There are no special groups you have to belong to and it doesn’t matter what your social or economic status is. If you work, you contribute and we salute you.

For many of us, what we do for work defines us. It’s one of the first questions people ask when meeting someone new. And plenty of people, myself included, spend way more time at work than at home. Even when I’m at home I often work, and I think the odds are pretty good that I’m not the only one who does that.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the first Monday in September is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers and was a creation of the labor movement of the late 1800s.

While there is some controversy over the holiday’s origins and whose idea it was, most agree the first Labor Day celebration was organized by the Central Labor Union in New York. It included a demonstration and picnic.

The idea spread among labor organizations and by 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many of the country’s industrial centers.

Proposals for early celebrations also include a parade to showcase the strength and camaraderie of the nation’s trade and labor organizations, followed by a festival to allow the workers and their families time for recreation and amusement.

It’s a good thing that those early celebration organizers had the support of labor unions behind them. I can’t imagine that too many industrial barons would accommodate a request by a few factory workers that they needed a paid day off to recognize how hard they work.

Centuries after those early struggles — thanks to the efforts of those unions — laws have been enacted to protect the rights of workers, including paid vacations and holidays.

On Monday, that means a holiday to do whatever we want. Organized celebrations seemed to have devolved into small backyard gatherings of family and friends as Labor Day’s origins become hazier. Backyard barbecues and rest seem to be the order of the day, though many also use the holiday to mark the unofficial end to summer and vacation season.

No matter how you choose to mark the occasion, take a moment to reflect on how together workers’ toils, regardless of how big or small the task at hand is, contribute to make this country a great place to live. And don’t forget to thank those who actually have to spend the day laboring.

Hali Bernstein Saylor is editor of the Boulder City Review. She can be reached at or at 702-586-9523. Follow @HalisComment on Twitter.