The first Labor Day was celebrated modestly 139 years ago with a small union-organized parade in New York City.
Today, more than a century later, workers ranging from common laborers to corporate executives are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic trifecta of unemployment, product scarcity and inflation.
When President Grover Cleveland proclaimed Labor Day a federal holiday and what emerged was periods of labor-management strife and occasional violence, he could not have foreseen the power the internet, digital technology and artificial intelligence would have over the working person.
Today’s workers are not living in an age of rising prosperity. Labor shortages are putting pressure on companies and businesses to increase wages to attract workers. But economists warn that a surge of rising wages will push consumer prices upward in an inflationary spiral.
Other changes are being wrought in the COVID era. Working at home has demonstrated to some, but not all, employers that they can save money by accomplishing the same work with fewer employees and at the same time slash costs by dispensing with offices — no rents, no utility or cleaning bills. Good for the employer, bad for the worker.
We face problems this Labor Day. Poverty is on the rise. Wages and prices are chasing each other. Fuel prices are pushing $3.50 per gallon. Inequities remain in pay for men and women. Sexual harassment embodied by the Cuomo administration makes headlines.
This Labor Day, too, we are reminded that Americans earning a living as teachers, health care workers, restaurant employees, retail workers, hospitality staff, police officers, first responders and countless others are still laboring on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, worsened by the spread of the more infectious delta variant.
These are the problems to think about this weekend as we try to stay safe and healthy while we strive to make better lives for ourselves and our families.