Do we ever stop and wonder why millions of Americans spend Labor Day, the first Monday of September, with friends and family? Whether it’s a last dip before the pools close or grilling burgers at the neighborhood cookout, for many Labor Day signifies nothing more than the end of summer (or another sale).
But Labor Day is a moment to celebrate the contributions of the labor movement in our country. And it's an opportunity for us to salute the millions of American workers who keep our country going.
Labor Day was created by the labor movement in the late 19th century, and became a federal holiday in 1894. In a nutshell, workers were fed up with jobs that demanded 12+ hours/7 days a week. In New York City, more than 10,000 workers took to the streets and marched from City Hall to Union Square -- America’s first Labor Day parade. With the assistance of organized labor and other union activists, people rallied and protested unsafe working conditions and low wages.
Organized labor continues to advocate for the marginalized and the voiceless, and to step up when help is needed. For United Way, labor has been a valued partner, always showing up in disaster relief efforts. During the pandemic, United Way and labor have teamed up to provide food relief, COVID-19 testing and vaccination -- with a special focus on helping health care and frontline workers cope.
In Los Angeles, Labor Community Services and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO (The LA Fed) has helped thousands of essential service workers (especially people of color) get vaccinated. With St. John’s Well Child & Family Center, the partners hosted “Labor of Love” events. “Our healthcare workers and seniors continue to be among the most vulnerable in our community,” said Armando Olivas, Executive Director of Labor Community Services. “We want to ensure that we’re able to help them get access to services they need.”
And United Way and Kendall-Jackson launched the Grocery Worker’s Appreciation Fund, now in its third year, to recognize and show appreciation to grocery workers for all they do to support their communities, while also providing financial support for life’s surprises and urgent needs, like health care expenses and automotive repairs. Eligible grocery workers (both union and non-union) can apply here. You can join in showing your appreciation and support this fund by donating here.
The future of the labor movement looks bright, as Liz Shuler starts her second year as the first female President of the national AFL-CIO (which includes 57 national and international labor unions and more than 12.5 million members in the US), just a few months before United Way President and CEO Angela F. Williams, the first Black woman to lead our global network, marks her own one year anniversary. At the same time, United Way and AFL-CIO are celebrating the 80th anniversary of our partnership in communities.
As Angela and Liz power forward to fight for working families, I’m proud of the progress they represent, and excited about our shared goals to build a modern labor movement that lifts up women and workers of color, and helps build stronger, more equitable communities where everyone can thrive.
So please join me in thanking the front-line workers you may encounter this weekend – not just health care workers and educators, but also those in the grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants or bars – for all they do to take care of our society and keep our economy moving.