A Labor Day Message from National President William R. Dougan


Labor Day was first proclaimed a federal holiday by President Grover Cleveland in 1894. Coming off the heels of the Pullman Strike and others before it, in which hundreds of striking workers were killed by federal law enforcement and private union-busters, the first Labor Day was a somber occasion.

It was a day where the sacrifices of hundreds of American workers were to be honored, and the aspirations of millions more to be celebrated. As president and founder of the American Federation of Labor Samuel Gompers described it, it was “the day for which the toilers in past centuries looked forward, when their rights and their wrongs would be discussed…that the workers of our day may not only lay down their tools of labor for a holiday, but upon which they may touch shoulders in marching phalanx and feel the stronger for it.” Gompers saw it not only as a time for remembrance, but a call to action.

More than 100 Labor Days since, the determination and rugged idealism of organized workers throughout the nation have fundamentally changed the life of every working American. Because of the labor movement, we now enjoy a 40-hour and 5-day workweek, overtime pay, paid holidays, and the accrual of sick and vacation leave. We enjoy the right to organize and bargain collectively for our health, safety, and financial wellbeing. Most importantly, we are entitled to the dignity that comes with having fundamental rights in the workplace.

We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. With solemn reverence, and with fierce optimism, we honor them on this day.

This Labor Day, I ask that you also keep in mind the millions of Americans who are out of a job right now; victims of an economic storm that has ravaged our nation for nearly 3 years. Please send your thoughts, prayers, and support to these men and women and do all that you can to help put them, and America, back to work.