Labor Day 2018

As we celebrate Labor Day today, most Americans are grateful for a day off, but we may not spend a lot of time thinking about the origins of Labor Day and what it has meant to Americans over the years.

First proposed in the 1880s by labor unions to celebrate the country’s laboring class and its contributions, it was officially established by Congress in 1894.

Labor unions at the time fought and struggled to represent their workers and wring changes in working conditions that today we take for granted. A five-day work week, an 8-hour day, paid vacations and sick time, pension plans, health insurance, paid overtime, all came about thanks to union activity. As the working class became stronger, so did American industry.

Labor union memberships peaked in the 1950s, at about 26 percent of the American labor force, but today it is closer to 11 percent. The nature of industry in America has changed. We have manufacturing industries, but advanced technology they employ fewer people. Globalization has allowed some of our largest, most profitable industries — think Apple, Inc., for instance — to move their manufacturing entirely overseas.

Today, we know that the real source of new jobs in America is the small business owners, the entrepreneurs who create new businesses and hire people people as they grow. We have more service-based industries and information technology businesses. In the past, people who got a good job intended to stay with it as long as they could. Today, college graduates expect that they will be changing jobs frequently in the years ahead, and the job they have in 10 years may not even exist today.

One thing that has not changed is the fact that people are the real source of success in business. We hear it said frequently “Our employees are our most valuable asset.” Businesses are finding out just how important that is as the unemployment rate has fallen to near record lows, and employers are having a hard time finding people to fill the jobs they have.

So, let us celebrate Labor Day today with the recognition of the value of work, in whatever form it takes, and with appreciation for all the people who make our nation successful.