Labor Day recognizes work force past and present

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

40-hour work week created from labor movement

Cooler temperatures and the fall season ushers in Labor Day, the federal holiday recognized the first Monday of September.

The American holiday, which originated from the labor movement, recognizes the contributions workers have made to the prosperity of the nation.

The first government recognition of the holiday occurred in 1886, and the first state law to be passed was in Oregon in 1887. By 1894, over 30 additional states adopted the holiday, and the same year, President Grover Cleveland signed a bill making the first Monday in September of each year the federal holiday we call Labor Day.

No one knows who first proposed the holiday. Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, General Secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and and cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, suggested the day to honor those "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold."

Other records suggest Matthew Maguire, a machinist, founded the holiday. Maguire, secretary of the Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday on Sept. 5, 1882, while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York, with a parade of 10,000 workers.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the current labor force in the U.S. consists of over 157 million people. Predominant occupations include management, business, finance, sales, service, administrative support, teaching, maintenance and repair, production, transportation, construction, natural resources, janitorial, culinary and other related occupations.

During the industrial revolution, when employees were expected to work up to 16 hours a day in dangerous working conditions to keep up with demand, Henry Ford proposed a new concept -- the 40-hour work week. In an interview published in World's Work magazine in 1926, Ford explains his reasons for reducing work hours.

"Leisure is an indispensable ingredient in a growing consumer market because working people need to have enough free time to find uses for consumer products, including automobiles," he said. "The country is ready for the five-day week. It is bound to come through all industry. The short week is bound to come because without it the country will not be able to absorb its production and stay prosperous.

"But, it is the influence of leisure on consumption which makes the short day and the short week so necessary. The people who consume the bulk of goods are the people who make them. That is a fact we must never forget -- that is the secret of our prosperity."

Ford's 40-hour week helped establish safer working conditions, introduced automobiles to society, encouraged an explosion of entrepreneurial pursuits and spawned the beginnings of consumerism.

Today, experts say a movement exists to make another adjustment to the labor force -- a four-day work week -- as needs have changed and society has shifted to a work-life balance focus due to increased demands and responsibilities outside of work, hectic lifestyles, decreased leisure and family time and increased stress, fatigue and health problems.

"Nearly everyone knows, at least subliminally, that American workers are being cheated out of leisure," said William McGaughey, Jr., author and shorter work week proponent. "Despite belonging to an advanced industrial nation, our workers work longer hours than their counterparts in Europe and in Japan. They also have less vacation time. Opinion polls show that U.S. workers are generally dissatisfied with their working conditions, and the shortage of free time ranks high on the list of complaints.

"Fortunately, there are activists who are trying to set a new agenda. Leisure can reduce the stress and strain of daily life, but leisure is in short supply."

Jon Horner, president of Security Bank in Cassville, said it comes down to productivity.

"I've seen people be very productive who work fewer hours," he said. "If you've got the right culture and staff, you can produce a lot of work without having to have extended hours."

Jessica Cowles assistant manager at Casey's Convenience Store in Cassville thinks a four-day work week would be good for families.

"I like working longer days and having more time off."

Exeter School District Superintendent Dr. Ernest Raney said it would be nice to have more time with family.

"I would prefer a four-day work week so my family could have one more day together," he said. "Every chance we get to have family time, I love it. It's just another day off during the week might not equal family time if your spouse is working or your children are attending school activities."

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