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Labor Day History Posted by on

The Following column was written by Leo Canty, the Executive Secretary of the AFL-CIO in Connecticut. It appeared in the Manchester (CT) Journal-Enquirer. It is reposted here with his permission.

Labor Spirit
By Leo Canty
Here??s a fun fact for the coming Labor Day weekend: America was started in a union hall.

In 1774 the ancestors of the modern day carpenters union, all of whom belonged to a local Philadelphia guild called the Carpenters?? Company, finished construction of Carpenters Hall. It was a finely crafted and impressive building, constructed by talented and organized skilled trades people who fully understood the value and power of working together to help each other prosper and care for family.

The carpenters guild members toiled as King George and the British profiteers were putting the squeeze on the colonists at the dawn of the American Revolution. Leaders of the colonies needed a meeting to share their discontent and develop a plan to stop the oppression. The call went out for the First Continental Congress; delegates chose Carpenters?? Hall for what would be the historic meeting, where delegates passed a series of resolutions letting the King and Parliament know that could not trample on the rights of colonists and put the eventual revolution in play.

How fitting, then, that the flame that ignited the fire in pursuit of social and economic justice for a nation was lit in a union hall.

A century later, the carpenters and other unions in Philadelphia and other cities were building their own modern-day framework for economic justice and social progress. Part of that framework included a vision to launch a special day of recognition for the toils and achievements of ordinary working people. America had made great strides economically since the revolution and the beginning forces of organized labor sought to ensure that due recognition was given to America??s workers.

Carpenters union leader Peter McGuire from Philadelphia, along with Matthew Maguire (no relation), a machinist who led the New York City Central Labor union, are both credited with launching the concept of a national observance of Labor Day. The official recorded event took place on Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City, when some 20,000 working people marched to demand an eight-hour workday and other labor law reforms. The idea caught on and marches, celebrations and other observances began to spread to other states as workers fought to win better wages, workplace rights and better working conditions, at a time when there were no laws to support them.

In 1893, as unions began to gain more power and recognition, New York City workers took an unpaid day off and marched around Union Square in support of a national Labor Day drawing a lot of attention to the organized efforts to improve wages and workers rights. A year later, 12,000 federal troops were called into Pullman, Ill., to break up a huge strike against the greedy Pullman railway company. Frustrated, angry workers resisted and the situation got ugly ending up with two workers shot and killed by U.S. deputy marshals. In what most historians call an election year attempt to appease workers after the federal crackdown on the Pullman strike, six days after the strike was broken, President Grover Cleveland signed legislation making the first Monday in September Labor Day and a federal holiday. Cleveland lost the election, and many states went ahead and affirmed the holiday in their law books. Connecticut??s law passed in 1889.

History is history and beyond the institution of the Labor Day holiday organized labor has played one of the most significant roles as catalysts for change this nation has ever seen. Major social and economic changes such as ending child labor, pushing for a 40 hour week, weekends and paid holidays, pensions, health care, sick and vacation time, safe workplaces, rights at work are benefits everyone takes for granted and gets to enjoy. None of these benefits were achieved without a fight. Many struggles and sacrifices were made and lives given to provide fair and just rewards in trade for ones work. Today??s unions know just as well as those in place at this country??s beginning that at times it??s just as difficult to hold on to a good standard of living as it is to improve. But that??s never been a reason to stop trying.

The spirit of unity and purpose, and the desire to change things for the better, that suffused Carpenters Hall in 1774 is alive and well in today??s union halls and we all get to feel it at picnics and parades on Monday. Happy Labor Day.




"Angels" from LU 210 get kudos Posted by on

Congratulations to Brother Mike Robinson and members of Local 210 in Connecticut. They recently helped a Bridgeport woman by building a wheelchair ramp on her home after another contractor had delayed, overcharged and then left her with a ramp that failed inspection twice.

The woman, who is blind and suffers from multiple sclerosis and renal failure was forced to live in a nursing home at a cost of more than $25,000 before she could have a ramp put on her house. A local contractor took 3 months and charged her more than $7,000 for shoddy work. She contacted a local television news program whose promotion of the story caught Robinson's eye. With materials donated by Home Depot, union carpenters tore down the old ramp and put up a new one in two days.

The story can be watched on Channel 8's website here.





Workers with lowest wages also cheated most, study shows Posted by on

A comprehensive new study of low wage workers shows that most of them are not even being paid the meager wages they??ve agreed to work for, thanks to cheating employers. In addition most are not covered by workers compensation insurance or are pressured not to report serious injuries to seek workers compensation benefits. More than 4,000 workers in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago were interviewed revealing shocking details of exploitation and pressure by employers to give up legally provided rights.

--26% of workers interviewed were paid less than the minimum wage. Sixty percent of them were paid more than a dollar less than the minimum wage. Even among tipped workers, 30% were not paid the lower minimum wage mandated for tipped employees.

--25% worked more than 40 hours the previous week. Those working overtime averaged more than 51 hours in the week. Of those who worked overtime, 76% were not paid in accordance with overtime laws.

--The average worker in the study was cheated out of $51 the week prior to being interviewed, a 15% cut on their average $339 weekly earnings.

--Of the interviewed workers who experienced a serious injury on the job, only 8% sought workers compensation claims. Among those who did, 50% were illegally pressured by employers to abandon the claim, were fired, or reported to immigration authorities.

--Only 39% of workers interviewed were illegal immigrants. The rest were either legal immigrants or native born Americans.

One of the reasons the cheating is so widespread appears to be fear of employees to speak up. The study reports that ??when workers complained about their working conditions or tried to organize a union, employers often responded by retaliating against them. Just as important, many workers never made complaints in the first place, often because they feared retaliation by their employer.??

The conclusion wasn??t just based on anecdotal research. Twenty percent of workers complained about wages or working conditions and almost half were met with illegal employer retaliation, such as firing, suspension or threats.

The study was completed by the University of California, Los Angeles, and the City University of New York and is available online from the National Employment Law Project.




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