History: Thank Construction Workers for Labor Day!

Long before Labor Day’s association with the end of summer, BBQ’s, and outdoor festivals, Labor Day was originally established as “a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being” of the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

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The labor groups responsible for the creation of Labor Day, which was first celebrated on September 5, 1882 in New York City, were construction workers. Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, as well as Matthew Maguire, secretary of Local 344 of International Association of Machinists, are attributed for founding the holiday. These construction groups banded together to honor the vital force of labor that helped build America.

While you enjoy soaking up the last rays of sunshine at the pool and the extra day off from work, remember who was responsible for the holiday. Construction workers helped lay the foundation for America’s growth and are just as valuable now as they were 134 years ago when they were lobbying for a national holiday.

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You can become a part of the construction movement by taking the first steps and registering for Construction Careers Now. You can choose from several key trades including carpentry, pipe laying, tile setting, glazing and masonry, to begin a career in construction. Help build Colorado and know that you can join an elite group that has been making history since 1882 honoring the American worker.

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and 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.

Labor Day Legislation

Through the years the nation gave increasing emphasis to Labor Day. The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed during 1885 and 1886. From these, a movement developed to secure state legislation. The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887. During the year four more states — Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — created the Labor Day holiday by legislative enactment. By the end of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had followed suit. By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers, and on June 28 of that year, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

Founder of Labor Day

More than 100 years after the first Labor Day observance, there is still some doubt as to who first proposed the holiday for workers.

Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.”

But Peter McGuire’s place in Labor Day history has not gone unchallenged. Many believe that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, not Peter McGuire, founded the holiday. Recent research seems to support the contention that Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. What is clear is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.

The First Labor Day

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, 1883.

In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, as originally proposed, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a “workingmen’s holiday” on that date. The idea spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.