Labor Day honors achievements of American workers - Albuquerque Journal

Labor Day honors achievements of American workers

Labor Day pays tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers and is observed on the first Monday in September. It became a federal holiday in June 1894. Labor Day also symbolizes the end of summer for many and is celebrated with barbecues, parades and other events.

Labor laws

Most of us are familiar with the required labor law postings at places of employment, including minimum wage information, health and safety, workers’ compensation, employee rights and others. There is history and experiences that contributed to the requirements. Some laws are taught in classrooms, and some are shared by parents, grandparents and other relatives and family friends who have experienced the evolution of the work place. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics publication provides a history of labor law; the following is from that publication representing a small sample of laws that have impacted labor.

The evolution of the nation has been met by an evolution of the law:

As society has placed more value on education and child welfare, child labor laws have ensured more children take advantage of education and the leisure currently associated with childhood.

As society has become less concerned with traditional gender roles, laws promoting equality have increased opportunities for women in the workplace.

As society has become less tolerant of prejudice, legislation prohibiting discrimination in the workplace has improved employment opportunities for minority workers.

As society has become more concerned about the safety of workers, laws have been enacted that have contributed to a decline in the number of workers lost to grievous workplace injuries.

And with the advent of federal protections for organized labor, access to union membership has given all workers more opportunity to bargain collectively for improved working conditions.

These changes have combined to produce a labor force that is better educated, more diverse, safer and working under better conditions today than in 1915.

Child labor

The early American view of child labor was largely inherited from colonial England. At least as far back as the 17th century, many people believed idle children were a source of crime and poverty. To combat such idleness, apprenticeships were common for children of working-class families. Child labor, rather than being viewed as exploitative, was often considered an act of charity. Children remained an active part of the American workforce well into the 20th Century. The 1900 U.S. Census revealed the 1.75 million children ages 10-15 who were employed composed about 6% of the nation’s labor force. In 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) instituted permanent federal protections for children in the workplace. Provisions included restricting industries for children under age 18, limiting working hours for children under 16, and banning children under 14 from most kinds of work.

Gender equality

One of the most dramatic changes to the American workplace in the past 100 years is the role of women. In much of early-American society, relatively few women entered the labor force. In 1950, about one-third of women ages 16 and over were in the labor force; the proportion rose to 60% by 2000 and is now just over 58%.

The Equal Pay Act (EPA) of 1963, mandating men and women engaged in the same work earn the same, covers all forms of pay including salaries, incentives and benefits.

Racial equality

In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, making it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of race. Title VII states, “It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer … to fail or refuse to hire … or otherwise to discriminate against any individual … because of such individual’s race.” The Civil Rights Act is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which began operations in 1965. Civil Rights Act of 1991, mostly procedural, lays out how claimants can pursue relief and specifies the remedies available.

Working conditions

Workers’ compensation laws at the state level together with the Occupational Safety and Health Act at the federal level have contributed to make working conditions much safer for U.S. workers. In 1970 the most expansive federal legislation regulating workplace safety passed, the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

Today you see signs posted for the number of days a work site has been free from injury.

Union membership

The National Labor Relations Act passed in July 1935, guaranteeing private-sector workers the right to unionize and allowing workers to engage in collective bargaining as a matter of national policy. NLRA, amended in 1947 by the Taft-Hartley Act and in 1959 by the Landrum-Griffin Act, is still in force today.

Sources: bls.gov/opub/mlr/2015/article/pdf/labor-law-highlights-1915-2015.pdf

 

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