Every Labor Day, we celebrate a holiday that honors the contributions of workers. The first government-sanctioned Labor Day celebration was on Sept. 5, 1882 in New York City. In an effort to reduce tensions between the business and labor communities and further ensure safe conditions for city employees, 400 manufacturers in New York signed an agreement to make Sept. 5 a holiday for all workers within the city limits. Six years later, the U.S. Congress voted to establish Labor Day as a national event in recognition of the contributions of working people.
As America grew, so did its workforce and with it came transitions in how American workers spent their days off from work. In the 1920s, lifeguards in Atlantic City, N.J., the site of the first official Labor Day parade, were treated to a day at the beach rather than work on the waterfront. In 1938, many Americans found themselves working six days a week as a result of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl conditions that plagued much of the country. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation in 1938 into law creating a three-day weekend for federal employees, including postal workers and other public servants. In 1940, Congress adopted the 40-hour work week and eight years later made the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday dedicated to American labor.
The protections we enjoy as Americans today are not gifted by any one person or organization. Rather, they are the hard-fought and hard-won gains of generations of workers, their families and friends who fought for safe working conditions, fair wages and a level playing field on which to compete. Many died in that struggle; many were injured; some spent time away from their families in jail. They did so because of their fundamental belief in the dignity and worth of every single American worker.