By Ted Edmonds, State Representative
With temperatures still running into the high 80s, and into the 90s on some days, it doesn’t seem like the end of summer is here, but the calendar tells that Monday is Labor Day, and so the summer holiday season, at least, is over. For the parents in our community, it has been over for a while with school starting earlier and earlier each year.
It’s just a coincidence, really, that kids go back to school around the same time that we celebrate the American worker and the contribution they make to our society. Still, it wasn’t so long ago, historically speaking, that children were a larger part of a labor force. That had to be, since so many people died young, even just 100 years ago. Of course, many people died young because they were worked to death, literally. Children as young as 5 would go to work in the coal mines doing menial chores, then you’d have young men around the age of 25 dying of black lung. It was a vicious cycle.
Just 100 years ago, in 1910, children held more than 2 million industrial jobs – factories, mining, and the like. Hard labor, as you might call it. We’re all better off for having broken out of that cycle so that our children can enjoy their youth, go to school instead of work, learn valuable job skills, and have a better life than their parents did.
In the 116 years that we’ve been celebrating Labor Day, workers have made great strides – not just children, but adults, too. If you work a blue-collar job, you get paid time-and-a-half when you work overtime. That wasn’t always the case, and overtime pay is one of the reasons we’ve become a more productive society. When you’ve worked a 40-hour week and you’re tired, many times you’d rather go home and rest than get another hour’s pay. But for 50 percent more money? Suddenly you can work longer hours!
Worker’s compensation is another practice that has taken hold in the last century. Back in the 19th Century, workers would continue on, even with horrible injuries, because if they took time off to get better, they’d lose their jobs. Even if they kept their jobs, they wouldn’t get paid while they were out, and their families would starve.
Unemployment compensation is another. As many of our citizens have heard, Congress debates extensions to our unemployment fund every other month or so, because so many people are out of work. Until 1932, there was no such thing as unemployment insurance. If you lost your job – whether because you weren’t very good at it, or if your company made buggy whips and went under when cars were invented – you were out of luck. Hopefully there was a soup kitchen to feed you until you found a job.
All of these improvements have been made thanks to workers banding together and standing up for their rights. And we’ve become a better society for them. God bless our American workers… and for those without a job, we have to work together to create more jobs, so we can all build a better tomorrow.