The U.S. is honoring its nearly 160 million workers Monday, the annual Labor Day celebration that unofficially marks the end of summer and gives families a last chance for get-togethers with friends and relatives the day before the school year starts in some communities if it hasn’t already begun.
The national holiday, officially proclaimed in 1894, was born as a tribute to American workers who often faced harsh conditions in the late 19th century — 12-hour days, seven days a week, with low pay for physically demanding work. Now, backyard barbecues, a few parades and a day of relaxation mark the holiday.
While labor disputes over working conditions and pay are still common in the U.S., such as current labor negotiations over expiring auto workers’ contracts, many labor conflicts have evolved into disputes that fit the times, and they are not just about workers’ pay.
Some businesses are feuding with their white-collar employees over whether they should be required to return full-time or at least part-time to their workplaces after they worked almost entirely from home for more than three years because of the coronavirus pandemic. Other disputes have emerged over the budding use of artificial intelligence, how it affects companies’ work product and whether workers might lose their jobs because of the use of it.
The unionized U.S. workforce has been declining for years, but still totals more 14 million workers. Democrats rely on it for steady political support in elections, although a segment of more conservative workers in some factory towns have switched their political allegiance to Republicans even as their union leaders still mostly support Democratic politicians.
Democratic U.S. President Joe Biden, who often calls himself the most pro-union president in U.S. history, is visiting the eastern city of Philadelphia Monday for its annual Tri-State Labor Day Parade. He was expected to speak about the importance of unions in U.S. labor history and how the American economy, the world’s biggest, has recovered from the initial devastating effects of the pandemic.
National polling shows Biden, running for reelection in 2024, struggling to gain the confidence of voters for his handling of the U.S. economy. But he has adopted the term “Bidenomics,” which critics intended as an epithet for his presidency, as a favorable campaign commendation.
During Biden’s 2½ years in office, the U.S. economy has added more than 13 million new jobs, more than during any other presidency in the same time frame, although some were replacement slots to fill vacancies lost in the pandemic.
Biden said Friday, “As we head into Labor Day, we ought to take a step back and take note of the fact that America is now in one of the strongest job-creating periods in our history.”
The Labor Department reported Friday that employers added 187,000 jobs in August, less than in some prior months but still a healthy number in the face of rising interest rates imposed by the Federal Reserve, the country’s central bank.
The U.S. unemployment rate rose from 3.5% to 3.8%, the highest level since February 2022 but still near a five-decade low. Economists, however, said the jobless rate was higher for an encouraging reason: Another 736,000 people began looking for work in August, a sign they felt they could find a job even if they did not immediately get hired.
The Labor Department only counts people who are actively looking for a job as unemployed, so that accounted for the higher jobless rate.
Biden has used executive declarations to promote worker union organizing, applauded unionization efforts at the giant shopping website Amazon and has authorized federal funding to aid union members’ pensions. Last week, the Biden administration proposed a new rule that would make 3.6 million more U.S. workers eligible for overtime pay, the most generous such increase in decades.
In campaign stops, Biden has praised union workers helping to build bridges and repair deteriorating infrastructure as part of the bipartisan $1.1 trillion public works package Congress passed in 2021.
“Unions raise standards across the workforce and industries, pushing up wages and strengthening benefits for everyone,” Biden said Friday. “You’ve heard me say many times: Wall Street didn’t build America. The middle-class built America, and unions built the middle class.”
Some of the information in this report came from The Associated Press.