While many Americans consider Labor Day to be the last day of summer and a time to relax by a pool and enjoy a hot dog and a beer, to the 12 percent of American workers who belong to unions, it is a day to recognize their movement’s history and what it has accomplished.
The first Labor Day took place in September 1882, observed by the Central Labor Union in New York.
In 1894, the day became a federally recognized holiday after workers were killed by the U.S. military and U.S. Marshals during the Pullman Strike in Illinois, where 125,000 railroad workers went on strike against the railroad. The federal government got involved, bringing in 12,000 troops, because the work stoppage interrupted mail service. During the eruption, 13 workers were killed and dozens more injured.
Since it has been declared a federal holiday, Americans have recognized the holiday at the start of September each year. Labor Day “constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country,” according to the United States Department of Labor.
According to the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations), about 11.9 percent of all workers in the United States belonged to a union of some kind in 2010.
Unions have recently come under fire by employers and groups that feel they are asking for too much in their contracts while the country suffers through a rough economy. But unions maintain that they have made sacrifices over the last three years to help their employers and that they are only asking for what they deserve.
With the , and a union rally in front of City Hall, building tension between union and management is evident.
Last month, about 70 union members met in front of Peekskill’s City Hall in a of “disappointment.” Teamsters Local 456, the Peekskill Police Benevolent Association and the Firefighters Association 2343 organized with a huge blow up rat and chanted: “What do we want? Respect. When do we want it? Now.”
Lou Denet, the PBA Peekskill President, explained, “we wanted more of an open dialogue with the city, to make the city council aware that there are issues that they aren’t aware of.”
The unions mentioned grievance disputes, outstanding contracts and disrespect from management as their biggest concerns.
City Manager Rick Finn said that the unions need to understand that there are significant limitations on what the city government can do.
Since the rally, a meeting with the Deputy City Manager Brian Havranek has been arranged.
For Denet, Labor Day means something more than just a day off.
“Labor Day is a day to reflect and think about all the people and how before unions were organized, all the things workers had to endure and how far the common working man has come.”