Labor Dazed

While Labor Day has been celebrated as a national holiday for more than 100 years, it wasn’t easy.

Many of us will take to the roadways this weekend (actually, many already have). In fact, AAA estimates that 34.6 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this holiday, almost the exact same number that traveled last Labor Day.

However, that’s not how things started. The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. Some 10,000 workers reportedly showed up to march in that parade, which was organized by Peter J. McGuire, a Carpenters and Joiners Union secretary.

A Slow Start

But while Labor Day has been celebrated as a national holiday for more than 100 years, it wasn’t easy. In 1893, President Grover Cleveland had deployed some 12,000 federal troops to stop a strike at Chicago’s Pullman Company that was interrupting mail trains. Union protests against Cleveland’s harsh methods in dealing with Pullman strikers made appeasement of the nation’s workers a priority. Legislation was rushed through Congress – and the bill landed on the President’s desk just six days after the federal troops broke the Pullman strike. 1894 being one of those “off-year’ election years, Cleveland quickly signed the bill – though he was NOT reelected when he came up for reelection in 1896.

These days only about 12% of wage and salary workers belong to unions, with Hawaii and New York having among the highest rates of any state (25% and 24%, respectively). South Carolina has one of the lowest rates, 2%.

Today’s Workforce

The Census Bureau reports that there were 152.8 million people in the American workforce as of May 2007; 82.1 million men and 70.7 million women. The federal government reports that 7.6 million workers hold down more than one job (about 5% of the population), and that about half of these work full time at their primary job and part time at their “other’ job. There are said to be about 310,000 moonlighters who work full time at both jobs. 10.6 million are self-employed, and 10.3 million are independent contractors. Roughly 4.8 million work at home. The median number of years workers have been with their current employer is four, but about 9% of those employed have been with their current employer for 20 or more years.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 28% of those workers 16 and older work more than 40 hours a week, and 8% work 60 or more hours a week.

Getting There

As for getting there (to work), 15.9 million leave for work between midnight and 5:59 a.m., about 12% of all workers, according to the 2005 American Community Survey). More than three-quarters (77%) of workers drive to work alone, while 11% car pool, and 5% take public transportation (see also Commuting Sentences).

New York residents had the most time-consuming commute in the nation (31.2 minutes), followed by that of Maryland residents with 30.8 minutes. The national average was 25.1 minutes, according to the 2005 American Community Survey. That same report says that 3 million workers commute 90 or more minutes each day.