The Spirit of Labor Day

Read it here.

For many, especially here in Maine, Labor Day is a celebration of the unofficial end of summer and signals the beginning of the school year. For the consumers among us, it is also known as one of the largest sales dates of the year. But the spirit of Labor Day, as originally conceived, embodies so much more.

Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894 to celebrate the American labor movement and, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, “is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

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The original sentiment of Labor Day, as a celebration of the American worker, could not have been expressed any better than by Arthur “Artie T.” Demoula last Thursday when he spoke to the employees of Market Basket, after their 6 weeks of protests against Artie T’s ouster by his cousin led to a deal for Artie T’s purchase of the company.* Addressing those employees outside Market Basket headquarters a day after the deal was announced, Artie T. commended them on their courage and said:

You have demonstrated that in this organization here at Market Basket everyone is special. You have demonstrated that everyone here has a purpose. You have demonstrated that everyone has meaning and no one person is better or more important than another, and no one person holds a position of privilege, whether it’s a full-timer or a part-timer, whether it’s a sacker or a cashier or a grocery clerk or a truck driver or a warehouse selector, a store manager, a supervisor, a customer, a vendor, or a CEO — we are all equal. We are all equal, and by working together, and only together, do we succeed.

As encouraging as Artie T.’s words are, we all know that the Market Basket story – workers striking in favor of their ousted billionaire CEO – is atypical and, even more so, that Artie T.’s assertion that all employees are equal – from grocery clerk to CEO – is not universally accepted.

Rather, employers often resist working with employees to resolve workplace issues, especially when the employees are collectively organized in unions, as has recently been demonstrated by FairPoint Communications’ attitude towards negotiations with its unionized Maine employees, represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications Workers of America. Yesterday on Labor Day, FairPoint workers rallied in Portland for better contract terms after FairPoint walked away – coincidentally also on last Thursday – from contract negotiations with the unions.

Labor Day is intended to be a tribute to the American worker. American workers should not have to use Labor Day as an opportunity to raise public awareness of employer efforts to attack employee pay, benefits, and job security, yet too often that is the case. Ideally more employers, including FairPoint, will embrace Artie T.’s sentiment that the workplace should be a “place where respect and honor and dignity is a way of life” so that Labor Day can be the national celebration of “the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country” as it was intended to be.