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A Denney for Your Thoughts – An ending, a beginning coming

By Connie Denney

If you enjoy warm days and cool nights as much as I do, you are looking forward to the season which officially begins this month. The calendar date ushering in autumn is Tuesday, the 22nd.  But first we have a popular holiday to anticipate. Not for long, though, as Monday is Labor Day, which has come to be thought of as the end of summer. 

A particular Labor Day stands out in my memory, as it marked the beginning of my working career. The small family-owned daily (except Sunday) newspaper’s schedule did not include a lot of holidays. For most, though, the national holiday offers a long weekend. Of course, COVID-19 has altered life as we live it day-to-day. So this year’s celebrations call for caution.

Interested in how the national holiday came to be, I read information from the U.S. Department of Labor and the National Constitution Center. The names of Peter J. McGuire and Matthew Maguire figure in accounts of its founding. The U.S. Department of Labor gives the likely nod to the latter as proposing the holiday in 1882, while he served as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. It is clear, though, that this Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and set up a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic. The first celebration was Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City.

On the state level the first Labor Day legislation was introduced in New York, but the first to become law was in Oregon in 1887. In 1894 Congress passed the act naming the first Monday in September a legal holiday. President Grover Cleveland signed the law.

Industrial and manufacturing progress has certainly brought about changes in the way things are done, the way people think. Talk of unions conjures different images for different folks.  Some think of unions in connection with higher pay and a safer workplace. Others associate unions with violence and disruption. This small community has had its share of issues that created such division.

A personal recollection involves being called into the pressroom of the aforementioned smalltown newspaper for a meeting. I went through the swinging door separating the front part of the first floor of the building, where the newsroom was located, from the pressroom without a clue. The publisher, well-known to each employee, simply informed us there was an attempt to organize the pressroom workers. He said a few more words, then ended with, “Let’s get back to work.” I heard no more about it. I did know, however, that if I had a problem, someone would listen.

Explaining what Labor Day means, the U.S. Department of Labor says it “is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contribution workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

As you enjoy Labor Day, be safe. Stay safe.