Photo: Adobe Stock

Labor Day is a federal and state holiday in New York.

Closed today in observance of the holiday:

  • government offices, including Riverhead Town Hall
  • courts
  • U.S. post office (no mail delivery)
  • schools
  • Riverhead Free Library
  • banks
  • N.Y. Stock Exchange
  • UPS & FedEx (no regular delivery)

There will be no municipal garbage collection today. The rest of the week remains on its regular schedule.

The LIRR is operating on a Sunday/holiday schedule. Trains to Penn Station leave Riverhead at 7:42 a.m. and 12:42, 7:42 and 9:42 p.m. Ronkonkoma timetable.

The Suffolk County Transit S92 (Orient to East Hampton) and 10C (East Hampton to Montauk) buses are running today. There is no service on all other Suffolk Transit bus lines today except the S47 (Babylon LIRR to Robert Moses State Park.) Bus schedules.

“The Condition of Laboring Man at Pullman,” political cartoon from Chicago Labor Newspaper, July 7, 1894. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Why do we celebrate Labor Day?

The holiday grew out of the early days of the American labor movement at the height of the Industrial Revolution in the the late 19th century.

It was a time when the average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks, when young children worked in factories, mills and mines, when people often worked in very unsafe working conditions.

Labor unions were becoming more vocal and more powerful. They began organizing strikes and protest rallies, demanding better working conditions and the right to collectively negotiate wages and hours.

Labor Day was first celebrated on on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882 in New York City, with a parade and a massive picnic organized by the Central Labor Union. New York, New Jersey and Colorado were among the first states to declare a Labor Day holiday.

Labor Day did not become a federal holiday until 1894, following the Pullman strike and nationwide railway boycott in May of that year, which crippled railroad traffic. When the federal government sent troops to Chicago to break the strike, it touched off riots that resulted in the deaths of more than a dozen workers.

Against this backdrop of massive unrest, Congress, hoping to improve relations with American workers and unions, passed legislation making Labor Day a federal legal holiday. At that point 23 states had already done the same.

Labor in the U.S. today

For the first time since the coronavirus pandemic struck, total nonfarm employment is higher than it was at its prepandemic peak, rising to more than 152.7 million people, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nonfarm employment was 152.5 in February 2020 and 151.1 in August 2019.

About 130.5 million are employed in the private sector, with 109.3 million in the service-providing sectors and 21.2 million in goods-producing sectors (both durable goods and non-durable goods.) Retail leads service-sector employment with 15.9 million, followed by leisure and hospitality with 15,8 million.

The unemployment rate was 3.7% nationally in August, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Suffolk County, unemployment was 3.4% last month, lower than in August 2019 when it was 3.9%. Unemployment peaked at 18.6% in Suffolk in April 2020, at the peak of the COVID-19 crisis in New York.
Labor union membership in the private sector has been declining since 1981. The private-sector unionization rate was just 6.1% in 2021. Overall unionization, including public-sector employment, was 10.3% in 2021, down from over 21% in 1981.

Labor unions are currently enjoying a resurgence in public opinion, however. Unions are viewed favorably by more Americans than at any time since 1965, according to the polling organization Gallup. More than 70% of Americans view unions favorably, a recent Gallup poll showed.

Unions have notched a number of high-profile organizing victories at major corporations, including Amazon, Apple and Starbucks.

The number of union election petitions increased significantly in the first half of fiscal year 2022, the National Labor Relations Board said. The NLRB reported a 57% increase in union election petitions filed during the first six months of fiscal year 2022 compared with the same period in FY 2021.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.