A Labor Day Salute to You – the American Worker

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Unlike virtually every other holiday our nation celebrates, Labor Day isn’t about any single American, religious event, or group of heroes. Labor Day is about all of us. It’s a celebration of, for, and by the people who made America the most prosperous nation on earth: American workers and the families who support them. We’ve got a lot to be proud of.

A brief history of how the holiday began, courtesy of the Department of Labor’s Website

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, 1883.

In 1884, the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a “workingmen’s holiday” on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.

On June 28 1894, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

This weekend, as you prepare to relax and say good-bye to summer with one last cookout, consider what the American worker – you, me, our parents, grandparents, and many before them – created in this country. Just 150 years ago, people purchased other people at auction. Even children worked long hours for miserly wages in often dangerous conditions. The wealth of our nation was concentrated in the hands of the few, while the masses had little opportunity to improve their lot in life. But through collective bargaining and the awesome power of the vote, individual people – people just like you and me – turned a nearly feudal society into one that placed the power where it belonged: into the hands of those who did the work.

Today times are tough – unemployment is high and optimism is low. But without the safeguards and protections American citizens have put in place, times would be a lot worse.

Consider just a few of the many recent accomplishments listed at this page of the DOL website

From March 2009 to March 2010, we’ve served 39.4 million Americans though the Employment and Training Administration programs, including 8.9 million who’ve participated in more comprehensive job training programs, and about 19 million who’ve received career counseling or resume assistance. Over 641,000 workers been placed into new jobs through the Department’s Workforce Investment Act Adult and Dislocated Worker programs.

Since January 2009, the Department has ensured that 29 million Americans received the unemployment benefits they earned. And because of the modernization efforts in the Recovery Act, an estimated 100,000 unemployed Americans received benefits they would not otherwise received.

Since January 2009, the DOL has served nearly 200,000 veterans through the Department’s transition assistance program. In addition, in 2009 it served 1,537,000 veterans through the One-Stop Career Center system, with 902,300 veterans entering employment. Our homeless veterans employment program served 15,500 homeless veterans in 2009, with 10,400 homeless veterans entering employment.

By rewriting the regulations that govern migrant farm workers, the Labor Department ensured that nonimmigrant workers will only be allowed into the country when a company certifies that no American workers are interested in the job, that all farm workers are paid a fair and competitive wage, and that employers provide humane and safe living conditions for all domestic and legal migrant farmworkers.

Through the Recovery Act, we invested $500 million in 189 green jobs training programs to make careers in solar, wind, biofuels, and other clean energy sources available to Americans throughout the United States.

That’s just some of what “we the people,” through our government, have done recently to help our fellow workers. But it’s a drop in the bucket when placed alongside the myriad protections we’ve enacted over the years to preserve worker health, safety, and prosperity.

We have laws to protect us from unsafe working conditions. We have laws requiring equal pay for equal work. Laws that prohibit discrimination, so we all have an equal chance at a job. Laws and unions that limit the hours you work and set minimums for pay. We’ve created a system that guarantees you’ll have retirement benefits when you get too old to work and money coming in should you become disabled and can’t work. The list goes on and on, all with one thing in common: None of these protections were a gift handed out by factory owners or Wall Street bankers. The American worker was behind each and every one.

So as you bite into that burger or watch that parade this weekend, remember: This isn’t the first time the American worker has been through tough times, and it won’t be the last. But we’re lucky to live in country where working hard allows us to change our family’s future – and working together allows us to change the world.

Here’s to you!

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