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Labor Day: Then and Now

While gearing up for the unofficial last weekend of summer, we looked into the history of Labor Day and other assorted information and news. According to The History Channel, Labor Day traces its origins to “one of American labor history’s most dismal chapters.” In the late nineteenth century, the average worker toiled for twelve hours each day, seven days a week, for often meager wages. Very young children worked as well, earning a small fraction of the wages of adults. At the same time, unsafe working conditions, especially for those who were poor and recent immigrants, created a dire scenario for many. Labor unions emerged in response, “organizing strikes and rallies to protest poor conditions and compel employers to renegotiate hours and pay.” Workers in New York City held the first Labor Day parade on September 5, 1882, taking unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square. Subsequently, the idea of a “’workingmen’s holiday,’ celebrated on the first Monday in September, gained popularity in other industrial cities.” Congress legalized the holiday and President Grover Cleveland signed it into law in 1894, following a strike by employees of the Pullman (railway) Palace Car Company. Find out more about the history of Labor Day

Labor Day and People with Disabilities:

“Let’s be certain that we include the contributions of the members of the workforce with disabilities in that (Labor Day) celebration and continue to create a more inclusive and more accessible workplace that empowers the future achievements of all workers” stated the Bureau of Internet Accessibility in marking Labor Day in 2019. This message continues to be relevant today, as people with disabilities continue to experience lower rates of employment and lower rates of pay than those without disabilities. The pandemic has compounded the challenges. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Persons With a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics — 2020, employment among persons with a disability decreased from 19.3 percent in 2019 to 17.9 percent in 2020. Among the highlights of the data: half of all of those with a disability were age 65 and older, about three times the number of those with no disability; and those with disabilities were “much less likely to be employed than those with no disabilities.” The Bureau of Internet Accessibility offered some insights into how to improve these outcomes, including digital accessibility and challenging misconceptions. “Creating accessible work environments, including digital systems and websites, and providing reasonable accommodations opens doors for job-seekers and employers alike.” Read about Labor Day and Accessibility: Celebrate and Empower All Workers.

In recognizing Labor Day in 2020, RespectAbility, a “disability-led nonprofit that works to create systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities,” marked 30 Years of the ADA and the Future of Work. Noting that people with disabilities have been impacted disproportionately during the pandemic, they affirmed that “across the country, there are professionals in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors dedicated to finding solutions and making the future of work better for the 22 million working-age Americans living with a disability.” Sessions from a virtual summit covering strategies and practices that advance inclusion for workers with disabilities are available on the website for RespectAbility.