Labor Day has always felt like a pointless holiday to me; I have no family members in a union, and I worked in the service industry until fairly recently. For the few of you who have never known the joys of retail, hotel, or restaurant work: that means that any Labor Day I had off was an unpaid coincidence (usually) sandwiched between two work days. I always thought it was ironic that the majority of people who get to enjoy the long weekend were office drones who did very little in the way of labor.
Of course, Labor Day isn’t a holiday for manual labor (or for women that have given birth, as my 11th grade history teacher once tried to explain); it’s a holiday created by the once-powerful trade unions to celebrate the contributions of the working class to the prosperity of the United States.
During our camping trip this Labor Day weekend, my boyfriend made an off-hand comment about how he was surprised that we celebrate such a “socialist” holiday here in America. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought since then; not because I didn’t agree with him (I certainly did), but because it was yet another reminder of just how unfairly the average American worker is treated.
I should consider myself lucky; I’ve been an “office drone” myself since 2014, so I get Labor Day off as a paid vacation. Many Americans (particularly those in low-paying jobs) are not so fortunate, and receive no paid vacations or holidays at all. I think the first instinct for many Americans is to believe that these folks are either young kids in school, stay-at-home moms working part-time for shopping money, or retired folks looking for a way to get out of the house.
However, this is simply not always the case. For example, the average retail worker is 37-years-old, and their families often depend on the income that they earn. For many Americans, the service industry job that so many are quick to look down on IS their career.
The fact is, not everyone goes to college; your 20-something waitress may not be studying for an exam later tonight, so much as going to her second job. Furthermore, better paying jobs that may have been open to her even just 10 years ago are now going to college graduates.
Yet even without these statistics to throw around, it should be obvious that not all of the staff working at your favorite hotel, theater, restaurant or retail store are High School or College kids.
I am not trying to argue that everything should shut down for Labor Day; obviously, no one wants to spend their entire vacation at home, nor do they want their holidays to turn into a Purge-esque experience, with all emergency and hospital services suspended. If we want to enjoy our holidays, someone still has to work.
What I would like to argue for, however, is that America needs to vastly improve how we treat our workers.
As most of you likely already know by now, we are “the only developed country in the world without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday,” and the only developed country in the world without guaranteed paid sick or maternity leave.
I know that if I still worked in the service industry, working Labor Day (or any holiday) would have been much easier if I could take a different day off, with pay. I also would have actually stayed home from my waitress job while sick, if I’d had guaranteed paid sick leave.
I hope that one day, we can join the rest of the developed world in showing our gratitude towards the working class with more than just words and a single, paltry holiday that many of them don’t even get to enjoy.