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!

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Leave a Comment

  • Colleen
    August 29, 2012 at 1:02 PM

    As a fellow IBEW electrician (and a recent follower of the blog) thanks for this.

    • August 29, 2012 at 4:20 PM

      Colleen: Rock on! I love to hear when Kyle has women working with him!!

  • August 29, 2012 at 2:56 PM

    Tara, this is a great post! It’s easy to forget the real reason for so many holidays. They’re not all about cook-outs (though who doesn’t love those?!), football games, gifts, scouring the sales for the next day, etc. As a common office worker that sits at a desk most of the day, you forget that not everyone has those “luxuries” on the job.Thanks for the reminder of what Labor Day is really all about.

    • August 29, 2012 at 3:54 PM

      Wonderful post, Tara! With the attacks on unions these days, I have to believe that those criticizing unions must have forgotten where the 40-hour work week came from, not to mention holidays, insurance benefits, working under safe conditions–and a living wage! Union workers put their lives on the line and unfortunately many lost their lives in the effort to secure those rights to earn a decent living under safe conditions for themselves and future generations. My hat’s off to them on Labor Day and every day I work at my job enjoying the fruits of their labors.

      • August 29, 2012 at 4:21 PM

        Fran and Angie: I couldn’t agree more with both of you! Thanks for reading and commenting. 🙂

  • Susan
    August 30, 2012 at 9:53 PM

    Hats off to Kyle!! and to all the other laborers in this country who contribute to each and every phase of our lives without our even knowing it! Thanks to all of you!!!

  • September 6, 2012 at 10:06 AM

    Hello! Just found your blog via Pinterest and love it! And I love what you’ve written here. My husband was union electrician from the time we began dating until a few years ago. It was the uncertainty of work that made him give it up. But you described his day back then to a T. Let’s hear it for American workers and the good old USA!

  • archaeo_girl
    September 9, 2012 at 9:10 PM

    hell yeah to the unions.

    I grew up in a union household. My grandfathers were in unions, dad is still in a union, one brother is in a union. dad is in the steelworkers of america- he works 12 hr shifts around giant vats of molten steel. without the union, he’d probably be getting min. wage or- more likely- dead from crap safety regulations. we had a roof, he was able to get credit through the union for home and vehicle, and I even got a bit of money for college from it (at 18 member’s kids qualified for three months of summer labor work at full wages to go towards college).

  • taraliptak
    February 19, 2014 at 6:06 AM

    That’s awesome! I’m positive he’ll LOVE this recipe! Make sure you have some milk to go along with it. 🙂