Labor Day: The History of Labor Rights


The history of Labor Day is hidden behind sales racks and long weekend vacations. Many of us see the Labor Day holiday as a day off from work and the marker of summer’s end, but have you ever wondered what exactly we’re celebrating on this day?

Labor Day celebrates American laborers and the achievements they made during the Industrial Revolution, between the mid-1800s and early 1900s. Working conditions during that time were generally unsafe, and many workers were underpaid and their time was exploited. With hopes of improving working conditions, some industrial workers went on strike and rioted which resulted in many injuries and deaths, forcing Congress to step in to create reforms.

After more than 30 states enacted similar holidays, in 1894, Congress established Labor Day as a national holiday in an attempt to support workers. The original holiday featured a patriotic parade of local workers followed by picnics and activities for their families. While Labor Day did not eliminate low wages and poor working conditions immediately, it paved the way for peaceful protests leading to changes in worker safety, fair pay, and a nationally recognized holiday.

Labor Day weekend may have ended but we should remember that focusing on workplace safety was one of the main reasons for the holiday.  This week may be a day shorter, but safety should be on the forefront of your mind.

  • After a holiday break or long weekend, safety rules are relaxed and incident rates increase in the workplace. Consider starting the week with a safety talk that reestablishes safety as the top priority.
  • Travelers are flooding the highways, making Labor Day the second most dangerous holiday weekend for drivers. Remember to drive cautiously and attentively!
  • Summer is coming to an end, so if you plan on taking a boat out on the water while it’s still warm, do so carefully and don’t forget about safe boating!
  • Wanting to have one last barbeque while the weather allows it? Now is the time! September is the best time to buy a grill, so grab one for a great price, and enjoy a barbeque with family and friends.

Our working conditions today are much better than they were 150 years ago, but we still have to be vigilant about keeping our positive workplace safety culture. Life is still dangerous, and we have a mutual responsibility to watch out for each other. In addition, we have a responsibility to remember those who came before us and stood up for safe working conditions.

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