Labor Day is not just a barbecue

    Employes of the Bethlehem Steel Company’s plant display signs they carried at a rally at Bethlehem

    Employes of the Bethlehem Steel Company’s plant display signs they carried at a rally at Bethlehem

    I’m off the grid today – as are most of us – so I’ll be brief:

    Just as Memorial Day is intended to honor those who have fought abroad to keep us free, Labor Day is intended to recognize those who fought and sacrificed on the home front to improve our work lives. Those early labor activists rightly believed that business owners had social and economic obligations to the workers who created the wealth.

    It was common, before the labor union era, for the average American to work more than 60 hours a week. We can thank the activists for the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1937, which finally made it federal policy to enforce shorter work weeks.

    It was common, before the labor union era, for children to work slave hours. We can thank the activists for the 1938 federal law that created a national ban on child labor for the first time.

    It was common, before the labor union era, for workers to toil their entire lives without health coverage. But one of the concepts we take for granted today – company-based health coverage – was kick started during the ’30s and ’40s, when labor unions began to negotiate those benefits with their employers.

    And until 1993, there was no federal requirement that companies provide up to 12 weeks a year in unpaid job-protected leave to workers who wanted to care for a newborn or a seriously ill family member. But the ’93 law – the Family and Medical Leave Act – got passed with enormous help from member unions of the AFL-CIO.

    So take a moment today to give a metaphorical salute. And if you’re tempted to just shrug – because who cares about unions anymore, right? they cover only 11 percent of the ’16 workforce – bear in mind that as union membership has steadily declined, the income gap between the rich and everyone else has steadily widened.

    Just check the graph.

    Happy holiday. Turn those burgers.

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    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

     

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