Many bleary-eyed students, including myself, are enjoying our last week before school. We, along with our parents and friends, are extremely thankful for the day of respite provided to us by Labor Day. But what exactly is Labor Day, and why do we celebrate it?
During the Industrial Revolution of the late 19th century, workers in the United States were subjected to subhuman conditions, working 12 to 13 hours a day with few breaks and insufficient access to bathrooms and air. As manufacturing started to overtake agriculture as the "wellspring of American employment," labor unions started to become more and more prominent. After 12 years of protesting and striking, along with the landmark Pullman strike, Congress legalized Labor Day as an official holiday in 1894.
Although the makeup of employment has changed drastically since then, it is important to realize that there are groups of workers for whom Labor Day was created, but who still work on that day. This ironic fact speaks to the larger issues of class and poverty facing the United States now. While many workers are finally taking a stand against low wages, there is still much more work to be done.
1. Fast Food Workers
Fast food workers have slowly been gaining momentum — and national attention — as they fight to raise the minimum wage and protest against low wages. However, for many years, those who work the counters and the kitchens in fast food establishments have had to work on Labor Day. In fact, they have done so without receiving any wage premium, meaning that they get paid the same wage to do work on a national holiday.
Ironically, because white collar and other workers have the day off, they tend to frequent fast food joints for a quick lunch or dinner with family. Instead of spending the day with their families and friends, fast food workers flip burgers and prepare shakes for millions of others to enjoy.
2. Retail Workers
How is any American holiday complete without holiday sales and shopping? During Labor Day weekend, some of the best deals and sales occur, coming second only to Black Friday after Thanksgiving. Due to the surge in sales during this weekend, many retail workers are expected to work on Labor Day as well.
However, like their fast-food counterparts, these workers are gaining attention as they push for an increase in minimum wage before Labor Day.
3. Hotel Housekeeping Staff
Labor Day weekend is the perfect opportunity to go traveling with friends and family. In fact, 32.1 million people traveled during Labor Day weekend in 2011. Labor Day weekend 2012 saw up to 33 million people travel, reaching a new post-recession high. Experts are saying that good weather and low fuel costs continue to propel consumers into traveling, in certain parts of the country.
However, this directly affects hotel housekeeping staff. Due to the surge in travelers during this weekend, it is important for all the rooms to be cleaned, meaning that housekeeping staff work on Labor Day. On an unrelated note, in many cases, housekeeping staff also work on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day due to the surge in travel during those time periods as well.