As the end of the American “cultural” summer draws to a close, we’re all gearing up for BBQs and back-to-school. Labor Day is celebrated (mourned?) by so many as the end of summer where we pack away our white clothes (what is this, 1964?), start thinking about prepping our yards for the first frost, and fire up the grill with a handful of friends hanging around.
It’s a glorious 3-day weekend that we’ve all come to love, but unfortunately what we really forget – me included – is that Labor Day is a time to thank and honor the American worker. It’s a time to reflect on all we have gone through to make our jobs, and our lives, the way they are today. Before the labor movement began and formal unions emerged in the 1800s (see a fascinating timeline here), the American working conditions were a disaster: frequent and unnecessary deaths, miserable wages, ridiculously long hours. If Kyle had been born 100 years ago, he would have been one of those workers.
It’s not something I regularly share here – have I ever? – but we’re going to share a little about Kyle today. You see, Kyle is union electrician (I.B.E.W. 488). He’s one of those guys you see around the job site wearing a larger-than-life-colored neon green or orange shirt (imagine not having to think about your work wardrobe?!), hard hat, and boots. Five to six days a week, his day begins as he strolls out the door at 5:40, Igloo lunch cooler and coffee in-hand (see his beloved “coffee bar” below, stocked and loaded for the mornings). His workday begins at 7. He breaks for coffee at 9, has lunch at 12, and packs up his tool bag at 3:25. This is what his day looks like every day; he is the epitome of the American union construction worker.
But his job is so much more than the structured schedule by which he works. As an electrician on commercial-industrial job sites, there are risks that he faces every day that I, the office worker, can’t even fathom. When we first started dating nearly 10 years ago, I didn’t have a clue as to what his work entails. What I thought he did: lights, plugs and light switches installation. What he really does: installs and wires electrical transformers, runs high voltage wires through cement walls and floors, straddles steel beams 40+ feet in the air (tethered, of course) to install pipes for wires.
And he also: wires the auto-flush toilets, the smart boards, the computer and telephone networks, the fire alarm and security networks, the air conditioning and heating systems, the kitchen equipment, scoreboards in the gym, and the clocks (!!) in your kids’ schools. He works in (i.e., builds new or renovates) hospital emergency rooms, operating rooms, and cancer centers, art galleries (yes, Kyle lead the team who installed the lights in that photo), power plants, grocery stores, schools and universities, infrastructure (railroads and bridges), shopping malls, and casinos, just to name a few.
This is what the union electrician does, what the American worker does. Our work connects us in ways we never think about, in ways that bind us and weave us all together. Each of us depends on each other’s work. And together, we are better. So take a minute between bites of that Labor Day burger to think about the early sacrifices of the American worker that started the movement that makes our lives what they are today.
This Labor Day take the time to thank someone whose work you admire. Visit the AFL-CIO site to send a thank you card today!